Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent
Year C: Baruch 5:1-9; Ps 126; Philippians 1:3-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6
Chapel of the St. Bridget Sisters, Djursholm (Student Chaplaincy Recollection Day Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Just as he does in the Nativity story, St. Luke the Evangelist in today’s gospel underlines how the order of God differs from the order of humans, and how the latter will fade in power, when God definitely intervenes in the world.
First, we encountered the visible powers of that particular time: the emperor, the governor, the local princes and the high priests of the Temple. Of course, this establishes the historical framework. Israel’s God isindeed about to act in a particular historical context for eternal effect. But then the entire focus shifts. After listing the rulers – Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysianias, Annas and Caiaphas – the Evangelist writes: “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness”.
The spoken intention of the creator of the universe, of the one who is pure existence and gives everything existence and purpose, who has the true power, whom the whole word must listen to – the word of God comes not to the emperor, to the governor or even to the high priests, but to the son of a low rank priest, a strange, desert hermit. This is indeed the new order breaking in, of which the first natural law is “the law of retreat and recollection days”, or “the law Advent”: We need to detach from the structures created by us humans, and all their demands and noise, in order to hear what God has to say.
And what does the word of God tell St. John the Baptist, the John of today’s gospel? It says that all now is about to happen that has been foretold by the prophets hundreds of years earlier, by Isaiah quoted in the gospel and by Baruch whom we listened to in our first reading. God will act. And people need to prepare.
The expectations on the arrival of the Messiah, God’s chosen liberator of Israel and therethrough ruler of the world, reached a boiling point at the beginning of the first century. Of course, the Jews always wait for the Messiah, but anyone who studied the detailed counting of ages and years in the prophet book of Daniel, could see that the time had come. This is also picked up by the genealogy of Jesus in the beginning of the gospel of St. Matthew; seemingly boring, but in reality incredibly informative and spiritually rich. The numerology behind St. Matthew’s counting of generations says it is time.
Our second reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians underlined the need to be prepared “for the Day of Christ”. The inspiring imagery for these preparations were given by both the first reading and by the quote of the prophet Isaiah in the gospel. The imagery refers to the way heralds in Ancient Middle East solemnly proclaimed an upcoming visit of a king: the “paths” need to be made “straight … Every valley … filled in, every mountain and hill … laid low”, to prepare “a way for the Lord”. What St. John the Baptist tells believers at all times, is that we have a responsibility to make, to safeguard and to improve the road facilitating Christ’s constant arrival to, and increasing presence in, us. An easy-travelled road into our lives is prevented by spiritual mountains and valleys, just like hills and valleys can make travel difficult in natural geography.
My spiritual mountains and hills consist by all that, which has been overvalued, i.e. by myself and others given such importance that they influence the way I order other things and relations. Do I allow the pursuit of money and wealth, success and popularity, to become goals instead of means? Do I care more about my career, my pleasures or my looks than I care about others? Do I allow different views on politics or something else that can be important but is perishable, to affect my relations? Just to mention some examples. Well, whatever mountain I find, I need to ask for God’s help to knock down.
My spiritual valleys represent what is important to my relationship to God but is ignored or not valued highly enough in my life. What role has prayer to me? Do I take time regularly not only to say things but to listen to what Godsays? What about concrete works of mercy, of giving time and money to help people in need, especially people close to me that I know are alone or suffering? Whatever valley I find, I need to ask for God’s help to fill in. So that Christ, the new order, the order of God, increasingly can access my life and grow within me, and through me in all my relations and thus in the world.
By his call to prepare a way, St. John the Baptist is an accompanying figure in the Season of Advent where we particularly are invited to reflect on all this. But also because he thereby fulfills a prophetic task.
The dogmatic constitution on the Church by the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, labels true Christian life as prophetic in testifying about faith and charity, requiring us to carefully read “the signs of the times”. That is sometimes misunderstood as allowing values of contemporary time, what is in fashion and “modern”, to decide what to believe. But the Council in fact, and of course, intends it to be the other way around: We need to always know the truth, i.e. God’s plan, and to read the culture around us to see where and how truth needs to be better and more profoundly proclaimed. So that people in every time and at every place can make way for Christ into their lives.
Thus, we, like St. John the Baptist, need to tell people to repent for the forgiveness of sins, as well as doing it ourselves. To see my own deviations from the truth and helping others see theirs, in fact constitute one single task because we are all part of a common, human culture, which on many points turns God’s will and plan down.
The one whose arrival we prepare to celebrate, is not yet another role model, teacher or peace prophet, but the Truth, the Law and the Peace himself: God, incarnate. Who comes to show us the true meaning of our life. Who will offer to each one of us and to the world the order God intended in creation. An order we on the same time need his help to prepare a straighter way for, and which we allow him to do by receiving him when he now gives himself freely to us in the Holy Eucharist. About this breathtaking fact, the creator of the universe in one small piece of bread on my tongue, we can only say like today’s responsorial psalm: “What marvels the Lord worked for us!”. Amen.