Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent
Year A: Isaiah 11:1-10; Ps 72; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
By introducing St. John the Baptist in the Season of Advent, the Church instructs us on how to wait for our Lord and his three comings: in history which we celebrate at Christmas; in his future return, for judgment, at the end of time, individually for each one of us and for all time; and in our lives, for us to assent to, every day.
St. John the Baptist was the last and the greatest in line of Israel’s prophets of the Old covenant, a tradition of many hundred years conveying knowledge of God’s coming intervention to save humanity. St. John goes literally before this intervention, before the one who himself is God’s own speech, God’s own and eternal Word. After having revealed himself in, and talked through, his incarnate Word – a speech that will be carried through the ages by the Church in the New covenant, the New Israel – God has nothing more to tell us about who he is, what he intends us to become and how he will accomplish this if we allow him. Alleged prophets with alleged new knowledge adding something to, or subtracting something from, Christ, are in other words false prophets, for us to be aware of, and never listen to!
John’s clothing signalled that he indeed belonged to Israel’s prophets, and his activities on the Jordan river pointed symbolically at the old prophet Elijah, whose return according to the Jewish tradition would be the ultimate sign that God’s final intervention in history, the Messianic era, had begun. That, which our first reading, from the book of the prophet Isaiah described as a kingdom of peace, built upon the “integrity” and “faithfulness” of a new king, emerging from the “stock of Jesse”, i.e. from the scattered line of King David, Jesse’s most famous son. A new king whose name shall “be blessed forever” as promised by today’s responsorial psalm.
The message of St. John is simple: “Repent”. Repentance, “metanoia” in Greek, the original language of the New Testament, means to change one’s whole way of thinking, of viewing everything in the world; to acknowledge one’s need for communion with God as a gift received from God, because we cannot accomplish it on our own. But a gift to be cherished by us.
The desert where John the Baptist dwelt can symbolize our lives in the grip of sin. But if we make the path straight for our Lord so that he can travel into our hearts, our personal centre, he will liberate us from that grip. Repentance, to make the path straight, is always directed towards God, away from sin, i.e. everything in the world and in our lives that directly or indirectly speaks or goes against God’s will, manifested in creation and revelation. Repentance makes Christ the centre of life, around which everything else is related; ordered according to how it leads to, and serves, him.
The baptism provided by John the Baptist was an outward sign of the will to repent, to become cleansed and healed by God. But the cleansing itself comes with Christ and his sacramental baptism, which infuses the Holy Spirit, i.e. divine love, into the soul. The “fire” that John the Baptist speaks of, is the cleansing done by this divine love, this will of our best for our own sake, from within of us. Helped by the other six sacraments of the Church, above all regular confession, and her biblically founded teaching, which the Apostle Paul in our second reading today from The letter to the Romans says strengthen our endurance, comfort us and make us “give glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” by doing what is the will of Christ.
We are called to give the repentance flesh, concrete consequences, in our lives. Here, the teaching of the Catholic Church is a loving searchlight. We are also called, just like John the Baptist, to exhort others to do the same; turn away from sinful patterns, both helped by Christ and as a way to give him even more space in our lives. Every sin, also those appreciated by contemporary culture, lead people further away from God’s peace. Therefore, we must never hesitate to exhort colleagues, family members and neighbours to live the life that Jesus Christ, through the Church, teaches us to live, in relation to God, ourselves, one another and the whole of creation. And we must as well gratefully accept the prompting of others for us to do the same. Not for our temporal comfort, but for eternal life.
If one does not sympathize with everything that others, also those close and very dear to us, do, it is not equal to phobia or hate. Love does not implicate active support of all choices, small or large, of the loved ones. Just look at God. God loves us as created by him in his image, but not everything we do. If he did, we would not need salvation.
To make a judgment that something a person does might not be good in itself and thus for his or her eternal salvation, even if he or she believes it or has not thought about it, is not to “judge” someone as a person, i.e. his or her soul. To judge, which Jesus warns for, is to say that a person’s character is fully corrupt and must be excluded from the communion of souls. This is a task for God alone because the ultimate, true character, behind and beyond visible words and deeds, is ultimately known by God alone.
If I truly love another person, i.e. want his or her best for his or her own sake, and perceive that something he or she does is not good, based on a reasoning with arguments, I need to tell him or her that, of course in the most suitable manner. This is actually, and even, designated by the Church as one of the “works of mercy”, emerging from faith, hope and charity and a life already here in time with and for Christ. To be silent, to hold back truth about every human’s aim and vocation in God’s plan, is the opposite to love.
Relativism, the idea that everything we “feel for” automatically is good if it does not prevent others from doing what they feel, makes us half-hearted towards each other. It is officially labelled as “nice” and “tolerant”. But it neglects our responsibility, and totally lacks love.
St. John the Baptist teaches us to look upon ourselves and others, not with “tolerance” and “niceness”, but with love. In order to repent, and be more able to receive “the kingdom of heaven” that “is close at hand”. This kingdom is no social, political, economic or ecologic order, but the access to God’s eternal life. It will not come if we only chose the right politicians, progress in technology, have the right views, buy the right products, find the right identities – it will come only given by God himself, in love, through his incarnation. Because it ultimately is a person: Jesus Christ. For us to freely receive, or reject: with two different outcomes that we know and never must ignore.
If we, dear sisters and brothers, realize that the kingdom of heaven, thanks to Christ’s coming once in history, is given to us already here and now, to be perfected by God on a day of his choosing – then our whole life will be Advent; an active wait, in joyful hope. Amen.