Turn Your Hearts! | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. | A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 9, 2007 | From the November 2007 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Second Sunday of Advent—December 9 | "A" Readings: Isa. 11:1-10 | Rom. 15:4-9 | Matt. 3:1-12
Title: Repent your sins; the Kingdom is coming
Purpose: (1) to show repentance of sins as a required preparation for the Lord's coming; (2) to encourage timely use of the sacrament of reconciliation and of Advent penitential services.
Advent is a time of expectation for the coming of Christ. It is a time of preparation. For just as we prepare for the coming of a guest to our house, so should we prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.
Today the Church offers for our reflection the stark figure of the prophet, John the Baptizer, who lived a penitential life in the wilderness like the prophets of old, such as Elijah and Amos. We should note the sharp contrast here between the first and the third readings: the Messiah will establish peace and harmony, but only among those who accept his rule over their hearts. That rule involves worship of God and obedience to his commands.
Isaiah lived in the first half of the eighth century before Christ. The kings of Israel at the time were a sorry lot who disobeyed God and so brought the country to ruin. The people yearned for a king who would restore the glory of David and Solomon, who lived about two hundred years before Isaiah. Through Isaiah God promises a Messiah, an anointed king, who will spring from "the stump of Jesse"; that is, a descendant of the house of David. The prophet says that the Messiah will be a charismatic leader who will rule with justice and bring peace. He will defend the poor and destroy the wicked. Under an allegory of a peaceful gathering of animals who are natural enemies, the prophet speaks of the peace the Messiah will bring to the world, teaching men to conquer the passions that make them act like wild beasts toward one another, and instead to love each other as brothers.
The salvation brought by the Messiah is universal and will extend to the Gentiles--to all nations. The prophet offers a description of the life of Christians if they truly practice love of God and neighbor. The beginning of this peace is in this life, but it will achieve its full realization only in heaven. Secularized versions of this peace--various utopias--lead to the horrors of Nazism and Communism because they are imposed from outside; they do not require interior conversion from sin and are not based on faith and love.
While working on his famous painting of the Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci had a violent argument with one of his helpers. He lashed out at him with bitter words and threatening gestures. After that, he returned to his canvas where he was working on the face of Christ. He could not make a stroke with his brush. Then he realized what was wrong. He put aside his brush, sought out the man and asked for his forgiveness. Then he returned to his studio and calmly continued painting the face of Jesus.
Like da Vinci we are trying to put Christ into the masterpiece called "Christmas." The obstacle to his full coming is sin and all attachments to sin. John the Baptist says to each of us today, "Repent your sins, for the kingdom of God is at hand"--have a change of heart.
John was preparing the way for Jesus. He was a powerful, convincing preacher and prophet. Like the ancient prophets, he lived in the wilderness near the Jordan River, not far from the Dead Sea, a hot and desolate area. He lived a penitential life, wearing a garment made from rough camel's hair and living on a diet of grasshoppers and honey.
Many city folk went out into the wilderness to see and hear John the Baptist. He excoriated the religious leaders of Israel, especially the Pharisees and the Sadducees, for their hypocrisy. John baptizes with water for repentance; Jesus is more powerful than John so he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire; that is, his baptism will bestow the divine life of grace. John says his winnowing fan is in his hand to separate the wheat from the chaff; that is, he will separate the good from the evil.
Advent is a time of penance, repentance for sin and preparation for a more perfect reception of Jesus into our hearts. Advent is an ideal time in the year to make a good confession. Advent is a time to reject all sin and to work against all attachments to sin. The more we can root sin and attachment to sin out of our hearts, the more we bring peace and justice to our own souls and to the world. Thus we hasten the day when "the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb."
Because of our sins and our attachment to sin, we are always in need of conversion. The great saints like Teresa of Avila all recognized this. The closer they came to God, the more they realized their own sinfulness and nothingness.
Like them, we need a change of heart, metanoia, conversion--a turning from creatures and a turning to God. We should let the words of John the Baptist ring in our ears and resound in our hearts: "Repent your sins; the reign of God is coming." To the extent we do that, as Isaiah says, "There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea" (11:9).
Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1426-1433.
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Come, Lord Jesus! The Meaning of Advent | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
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Mary's Gift of Self Points the Way | Carl E. Olson
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The Incarnation | Frank Sheed
"Born of the Virgin Mary" | Paul Claudel
The Old Testament and the Messianic Hope | Thomas Storck
Christmas: Sign of Contradiction, Season of Redemption | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The God in the Cave | G.K. Chesterton
Father Kenneth Baker, S.J., is author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.
He has been editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review for over thirty years.
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