Turn Your Hearts! | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. | A Homily for the Second Sunday
of Advent, 2007| IgnatiusInsight.com
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
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
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
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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
He has been editor of Homiletic
& Pastoral Review for over thirty years.
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