Introduction: The First Sunday of Advent gave us a general orientation to the season, looking back, looking ahead, and living now. Each Sunday of this Advent the first reading is from the book of the Prophet Isaiah. The Second and Third Sundays of Advent propose for us, one of the key persons of the Season, John the Baptist. Our Fourth Sunday will have us look at St. Joseph. Of course Mary can not be far from our thoughts during this pregnant time. We will especially focus on her for the feasts of her Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Homily: The Gospel offers us the picture of a fire and brimstone preacher. With our imagination we see John, arrayed in “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather girdle” eating “locusts”. In my imagination he has long unkempt hair and a beard. From this frightening image of a man come forth even more frightening words: “Repent!” (v.2) The Greek word means “change your mind,” “change your thinking,” “turn around,” “return”, be converted.” If Christ is to come to us in any meaningful way, if Christmas is to bring the joy and hope that it promises, we Christians have to change our minds, our way of thinking, our way of living. Change is not easy. I found this relevant example in a book by Caroline Myss (WHY PEOPLE DON’T HEAL AND HOW THEY CAN). “One very honest woman said that perhaps she did not really want to be of such service to others because she was more comfortable receiving assistance than offering it. Another woman said, ‘I am not prepared for how it could change my life. I am not ready to consciously release my life to God, because that’s how this feels to me. And even though I know intellectually that I really don’t have that much authority over my life, I still need to live in that illusion.”
John reprimands the religious leaders, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves…” John spews forth scary image after scary image. “Even now the ax lies at the root of the tree. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” “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.” This image moves us to the common harvest imagery of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic thought. But be wary of equating Pharisees and Sadducees with chaff – they might have repented and borne good fruit. It’s our turn to prepare for the coming of the Messiah; and we ought not to presume.
We must search ourselves. Am I producing good fruit? What are some of the presumptions that I make, that I “say to myself?” Am I living a life that is not bearing food fruit? Am I risking being cut down and thrown into the fire? Is my life such that I will be in the barn with the wheat or in the unquenchable fire with the chaff?
After this serious examination of conscience we need to be reminded of the vision of the prophet Isaiah. Last Sunday he offered us a vision of a New World Order, “swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks…nor shall they train for war again.” Today we heard a vision of a world recreated in peace. Animals that are enemies become friends. Children and small animals dwell in peace with savage carnivores and poisonous snakes. Despite their vulnerability, they risk no harm. We hear of the “spirit of the Lord” coming to rest upon us. This is a spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, fear of the Lord. “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.”
Let us seek to be part of this New World Order, of a world recreated in peace. We ask for pardon for our sins and pray again our Responsorial Psalm:
JUSTICE SHALL FLOURISH IN HIS TIME AND FULLNESS OF PEACE FOREVER.
O God, with your judgement endow our leaders,
And with your justice, our president and congress;
May you govern your people with justice
And your afflicted ones with judgment. R/.
Justice shall flower in your days,
And profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May God rule from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the Earth. R/.
For God shall rescue the poor when they cry out,
And the afflicted when they have no one to help them.
God shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
The lives of the poor God shall save. R/.
May God’s name be blessed forever;
As long as the sun God’s name shall remain.
In God shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed;
All the nations shall proclaim God’s happiness. R/.
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