Sunday Sermon for December 5, 2010, the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings: Is 11:1-4; Rom 15:5-9; Mt 3:1-12

In the second reading St. Paul says that Jesus became a minister to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness and to confirm the promises to the Patriarchs. He also came, St. Paul says, so that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. In its original intention the circumcised means the Jewish people; however, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, we are the circumcision. So today, we, most of whom are from Gentile origin, are now to show God’s truthfulness, to see how He fulfills His promises and we are to glorify Him for His mercy.

There are many ways God can demonstrate His truthfulness and fulfill His promises, but as human beings we tend to find many ways to rationalize around God and eventually say that it must be a coincidence, there must be a scientific explanation, or it just simply was not God. It is with this in mind that we recognize that one aspect of the way God works is to set things up so that it looks impossible. Throughout the history of Israel and of the Church there seems to be a pattern wherein God allows things to get so bad that it seems impossible for His promises to be fulfilled.

In the first reading we hear about the shoot that sprouts from the stump of Jesse. Jesse is the father of King David. God had made promises to David about one of his heirs sitting upon his throne and the Messiah coming from the line of David. At the time the promises were made, it seemed that the house of David (or Jesse) would be glorious and powerful, like it was under Solomon, for generations to come, even until the end of the world. Three hundred years later the Prophet Isaiah is talking about a stump, not a glorious tree.

By the time of Christ the house of Jesse was a laughingstock. By the time of Christ there was no Jewish king; instead, the Jewish people had an Edomite, Herod, reigning over them and he was a vassal of the Romans. By the time of Christ the corruption in the Temple was a scandal and the High Priesthood had been highjacked by a wealthy family who served themselves rather than serving God. By the time of Christ the people were expecting the Messiah, but did not want Him. The situation seemed impossible, but it was when things were at their very worst that God finally intervened.

Why wait as He does? Why allow things to get so far out of hand before He enters definitively into time and human history? I think it is to demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that what is accomplished is done by the Lord and not by us. Left to itself, humanity always seems to reject God and His ways, choose the wrong path and tends toward chaos. The present day situation demonstrates this well.

In our days we have been blessed with some very good and holy Popes, but things within the Church have declined radically from where they were fifty or a hundred years ago. Following the pattern mentioned above, this is necessary. Situations like this allow us to choose whether we are going to follow the way of the Lord or follow the way that seems to have the power at the moment. It also allows the Lord to work in such a way that we will have no choice but to give Him the credit. We live in a “scientific” age where God is rejected and these people think they can explain everything by natural means. Therefore, when God intervenes, He will have to do so in a way that these “scientists” will not be able to deny.

Thankfully, when we look back over the times past, we also see that there is a faithful remnant, sometimes quite small, but faithful and fervent for the Lord. It is also clear that God raises up one or more people to lead the way for the remnant. We see this with the Judges and the Prophets of the Old Testament; we see it with the Saints in the New Testament and up to our own day. In the Gospel today St. John the Baptist is highlighted. An extraordinary figure who lived a hidden life, was probably rejected by most people because his way of life was odd. Some may have even thought him crazy. Jesus said he was the greatest man born of woman.

This reminds us that we cannot put God in a box or think we know how He will work. What we do know is that He is faithful and we have been chosen to show His truthfulness, to see His promises fulfilled and to glorify Him for His mercy.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit