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Second Sunday of Advent
December 5, 2004
Isa. 11:1-10 Rom. 15:4-9 Matt 3:1-12
Repent your Sins; the Kingdom Is Coming
By Rev. Jeffrey Lawrence
We are blessed in our community to have a very fine Catholic hospital, St.
Marys. I always sense Gods presence there, especially in the staff
including the doctors, nurses and other personnel who are not Catholic or
Not too long ago, one of the non-Christian doctors shared with me a very
personal and moving story. Hs patient one of our parishioners was
dying and nearing the end. The doctor was greatly impressed with this mans
peacefulness and acceptance that death was approaching. In fact, the doctor
himself had been struggling for a long time trying to find peace with God. He
knew that he had sinned in the past, but didnt quite know how to make the
leap to real faith and happiness.
So during a quiet moment at his patients hospital bedside, the doctor
said, "I want you just to tell me what it is, this believing and being so
happy and calm all the time
this faith in Jesus that you have and all that
sort of thing. How is it that you can be so peaceful?"
"Doctor," said the man, "I have felt that theres nothing
I could do myself to heal my body, so I put myself totally in your hands. I am
trusting in you. This is exactly what every poor sinner must do with Jesus."
The doctor instantly saw the truth in his patients words, and thanks be
to God, his eyes were opened in faith in a profound new way.
What the doctor experienced is precisely what St. John the Baptist speaks of
in the Gospel of todays Mass. "Repent!" he says, "for the
kingdom of heaven is at hand."
How does that imperative, that command, strike you? "Repent!" or
"Reform your lives" as its translated in the Lectionary. Most
people hear this as an ominous threat: "You better straighten out your life,
Buster, or else
!" In fact, you might remember the story that Jesus
tells in St. Lukes Gospel about the tower of Siloam falling on people and
killing them even though they werent any worse sinners than others who were
spared. Our Lord said, "I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise
perish" (Luke 13:3).
But I propose to you that St. John the Baptist wasnt giving us an
ultimatum that way. Instead, he was saying, "You dont know the
incredible joy that youre missing out on! Jump out of your life of sin and
discover how many blessings will start coming your way."
The Scriptures teach that when we repent and cast away our sins, we make
ourselves "a new heart and a new spirit" (Ezek. 18:31). God will
refresh us (Acts: 3:19), because "He is gracious and compassionate, slow to
anger, abounding in loving kindness" (Joel 2:13).
In other words, the Lord tells us that he loves us so very much, that no
matter how terrible and sinful weve been in the past, hell gladly
wipe the slate clean if only we are sorry for what weve done and
honestly try to amend our lives.
Just being sorry is not enough, although its certainly a good start. St.
John the Baptist says that weve got to give some real evidence that we mean
to reform our lives. He wouldnt let the Jews get away with saying,
"Well, were the chosen people because were descendants of
Abraham" and we wont let us get away with saying
"Were adopted children of God, because we were baptized Christians and
Jesus died for our sins." No, thats just pride and arrogance, says our
very forthright Baptist.
"Show evidence," he says. God demands proof.
Have you ever had someone repeatedly do something irritating but they
keep saying, "Im sorry"? You might get to a point when you blurt
out, "Stop saying Im sorry! If youre really sorry,
just dont do this anymore. The apologies dont mean anything if you
keep going back on your word."
Exactly! Dont say, "Im sorry I sinned, Lord" and
then do the same thing all over again. Talk is cheap. Instead, give some evidence
that youre trying to change.
The best evidence you can give is by the witness of your life. Our Lord said
to the people in his Sermon on the Mount, "Let your light shine before men
in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is
in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). When you do this, God is glorified because
"you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples" (John 15:8).
One of the most excellent demonstrations of repentance you can give God is
worthily using the Sacrament of Penance. Begin with a thorough examination of
conscience. Stir up your heart with love for God, and be very sorry for all your
sins. Resolve that starting then and there, you will really, really make an
effort to reform your life. Yes, theres no denying that it can be hard to
change old habits and patterns, but with motivation and Gods grace, it can
be done! Try to figure out especially how you can avoid the old familiar near
occasions of sin.
Follow this up with a good confession. What a joyful blessing to have your
sins wiped away and to receive a fresh infusion of sacramental grace! Promise
yourself, too, that youll come often to confession so you can continue to
What a beautiful way to prepare for Our Lords coming at Christmas. And
what a beautiful way to enjoy his presence all through the year, too.
"The kingdom of heaven is at hand," says St. John the Baptist. Yes,
its easily within your grasp. May our loving and generous God
touch your heart today and safely guide you there.
God bless you!
Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1468-1470.
Reverend Jeffrey Lawrence is a priest of the
Diocese of Peoria, Ill. serving at St. Stephens Parish in Streator,
Ill. A convert from Judaism, Fr. Lawrence practiced law, was creative
director and a principal in an advertising agency, and was a consumer
magazine publisher before his ordination to the priesthood as a "late
This homily originally appeared in Homiletic
& Pastoral Review, America's leading pastoral magazine
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