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 prophet John is away from the Jerusalem temple. People must go out to meet him. 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. In our times “Sin” itself has almost vanished from our vocabulary.
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 We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” 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 from stones 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? Have you ever noticed that some people are forever blaming other people. Pope Francis has cautioned us not to demonize our enemies. We are called to look inward and discern.
All the nations shall proclaim God’s happiness. R/.
Advent 2 & 3 A
Some further insights.
The Gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday of Advent in the A cycle is colored by a variety of Apocalyptic images.
1) John the Baptist is presented as an Elijah figure. Matthew wants to portray John in the likeness of Elijah, with his ascetic clothing and diet (3:4;2 Kgs 1:8) Many expected that Elijah would return as precursor and messenger before the end time (Mal. 3:1; 4:5?6; Sir 48:10?11). Matthew makes this identification of John with Elijah even more explicit at 11:10,14; 17:11?13. (Barbara Reid, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 22)
2) From the margins and contrary to the perceptions of the religious center, John sees the corrupt nature of the present and the inevitability of God’s wrath to come, which holds people accountable, and for which repentance is the only preparation. Interpreters usually assume that John sees a cataclysmic apocalyptic future scenario (supported by “in those days” in 3:1). (Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins, p. 97)
3) This is why the bracing wake?up call is necessary. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (3:11?12). This image moves us from stones 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. (John W. Martens, blog in “America” magazine).
The Gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday of Advent in the A cycle:
Is John’s question strange after this testimony and John’s baptism of Jesus (3:14)? Somewhat. But there was no uniform, widespread messianic expectation . Jesus’ ministry has demonstrated power (3:11) in authoritative teaching (chs.5?7, 10) and miracles (chs. 8?9) and has offered salvation and promised judgment (10:32?33; 3:11?12). But no cosmic judgment has taken place. John seeks confirmation. His question underlines the means of recognizing Jesus’ identity. Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins, p. 250)