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Second Sunday of Advent 'A' Homily – Part 2

John the Baptist

          On this Second Sunday of the New Church Year, John the Baptist stands before the ages and us in Chapter 3 of St. Matthew. He shouts out an invitation to repentance. He warns of impending judgment. He exhorts us to find security only int the Lord himself, not in superficial religious identity and external observances:For God can raise up children of Abraham [even] from mere stones", said to offset complaisance in one's religious lineage. John's mission yearned for the renewwal of hearts in "metanoia" - an "about face" - back to the Lord who saves the penitent.

          The contemporary biblical scholar, Celia Sirois, points out that the kings in Isaiah's day did not readily rely on the gifts of God's spirit but on human political councilors to govern; we know they were often tempted to make alliances with pagan rulers, something forbidden by God as their true King and ruler. Furthermore, this same scholar reflects that in John the Baptist's day, manu among the priestly aristocracy (the Sadducees) were in collusion with the occupying Romans. Thus Isaiah of old and  the later John the Baptizer, "delivered a politically charged message"! And so at the crossroad =s of salvation history, where John the Baptist stood, every religious leader especially, but also every common man and woman, needed to hear that there is now a "new [religious] possibility" in society - [namely,] "a new exercise of power at the service of repentance and religion" that we now call social justice!" It serves both God and humanity in a God-given 'New Order of things'!





          John pointed out Jesus Christ as the Promised Messiah, now standing in the very midst of the people. He is the One who will baptized by Spirit and fire. For the Spirit Is Fire! – He brings about staunch change by the graced decision of the heart and a renewed will for God. The Spirit is like fire that burns away the chaff of a sin-divided heart. The Spirit turns us back around to the healer and lover of our souls and to one another in solidarity! Baptism and penance are the works of the Spirit, the gifts again of the Messiah. But the Messiah's gifts also change community, for society is the milieu of the human person, and every person is in essential relation to family, community, and broader society. God and Person and Society are all addressed by the Lord of the End Times. John the Baptist bears witness to this broader and socially inclusive notion of religion, and we must not miss it as so many of his own contemporaries did!


          Conversion of heart, the fruit of the Spirit, is surely not self-centered. It is God-centered and other-centered. The penitent will  praise God in the assembly of believers and will  serve the Church of God and the mass of humanity, for all are called to grace. We repentant sinners will take our place in the universal "concert of praise" to the extent that we are intent on the total evangelization of the self and society. (This is a celebrated theme in Vatican II's document, Gaudium et Spes! .)


          So the Lord of Advent today calls us to the confession of our sins to God, to the church and to all humanity. He bids us follow him into service. He bids us this sacred Time and Season according to its original meaning: namely, the Celebration of Redemption at the Incarnation of the Son of God the Savior. To recognize him and to follow him is to turn the back of our 'grasping self' and to turn towards God and our neighbor in grateful penitence. Naturally, service is offered through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy – the outreach of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the four moral virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude of soul. Faith and hope and love stretch out to God and to family and neighbor in need through works of brotherly and sisterly charity.


          In our Gospel reading today, Jesus Christ does not speak directly to us. In Matthew 3, it is again, John, Precursor of the Lord, who speaks, but in the presence of the Lord and of the first disciples that Jesus Christ will call. John's point is that the works of formal-exterior religion do not satisfy the purpose of God's holiness. The "tree must bear good fruit to be cut down." Before God we stand at a moment of great decision. Such is the mentality of the true penitent. Do note that there is an urgency here! An urgency that we truly perceive the multiple layers of discipleship of Christ. We are to worship God in humility of heart, and we are to extend God's gift of mercy and love to our own kind, and especially to those in need. Comfortable living for sure must NOT exclude social justice in the markeplace, thus rendering a ready and active concern for the less fortunate. Of the Messiah that we prepare to meet in today's sacred liturgy and at the End of all Time and History, John the Forerunner of the Lord says: "His winnowing* fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing floor, and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."



          (*) Parenthetically, not being familiar enough with harvest and agricultural imagery in the bible, I turned to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Published by the InterVarsity Press/England/1998/p.136). It reads: "In *winnowing, grain is threshed in order to separate the kernel of grain from the husk and straw. The mixture is thrown into the air with a winnowing fork or shovel. The wind blows the light husk away, the heavier straw falls near the edge of the threshing floor, and the grain [directly] falls back to the floor to be collected. Both the light husks and the heavier straw are ... translated "chaff"  in the bible."


          Please God, the Word has entered our hearts to stay there in saving grace! We are humbly ready for him to renew our baptism with fiery decision in the mind and heart. We accept our loving obligations to our own household, our friends and neighbors, and to the Lord's poor. The Lord's judgment is a consuming fire indeed. We submit ti his judgment for our own renewal. And we place no hopes in our religious observance that closes us off from deeply discerning conscience and generous outreach. For you and I, not unlike John the Baptizer, are expected to become AN ADVENT OF THE LORD TO ALL THOSE AROUND US. For our mission too is to "prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight his paths! For all flesh shall soon see the salvation of our God". Amen.

Written by Fr. Sam Anthony Morello, OCD
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