Sunday Sermon for December 9, 2018, the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C
Readings: Bar 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-6, 8-11; Lk 3:1-6
In the second reading today St. Paul states his confidence that the One Who “began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” This can certainly be applied in a variety of situations, for example, in one’s vocation, in the undertaking of an apostolate, in a work of charity, and so on. However, I think we need to look even broader than these categories and recognize that God began a good work in us on the day He created us. From before the foundation of the world He had already called us to Himself, but that process of growing in holiness and union with Him began in earnest on the day we became members of Jesus Christ.
This is important because we can sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture of what God is doing in our lives. We can get caught up in the present moment with all the busyness it entails, or we might become focused on what God has called us to do in our vocation and fulfilling the duties of our state in life. Either of these possibilities is very good, but is still too narrowly focused for our consideration today.
On the other hand, in the midst of our sorrows and sufferings we can often become despondent or even despairing because we fail to see the big picture due to the crushing weight of our troubles. In a society like ours with all its noise, glitter, and distractions, it is also easy to lose our way, to get caught in the allurements and sidetracked by the temptations. Suddenly we find ourselves in a situation like the Prodigal Son and wonder how we could go so far astray.
Whatever the case, all of these things, no matter how good or bad they may seem, are only details in the big picture of our life. Periodically we need to step back and remind ourselves of this big picture in order to see the minute details in their proper context.
We live in a world of immediate gratification; this is something new for humanity and it must come from the evil one because it is not the way God has worked throughout history. God is very patient and usually leads us gently along the path that most perfectly fulfills His purpose for us. We see this in the example of St. John the Baptist in the Gospel reading today. St. John is out in the desert; he must have discerned this was God’s will for him. We do not know how long he had been in the desert, but he was there to be purified and prepared for the ultimate purpose of his creation. I suspect he was in the desert a number of years before the word of God revealed his mission to proclaim, in the desert, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
We do not know the circumstances f his call, but it may be St. John recognized the call from God and went to the desert thinking his work would begin after a brief time of preparation. But even what he understood himself to be as the fulfillment of God’s prophecy through the Prophet Isaiah shows the patience of God: Isaiah lived 700 years before the Baptist, and now the words of the Prophet were being fulfilled.
We see this same pattern in the first reading when the people of Israel, and especially Jerusalem, are being brought back from exile. Jerusalem is the holy city, yet God allowed Jerusalem, and the Temple which made her holy, to be destroyed by her enemies and the people led away in humiliation. Baruch says the people were led away on foot by their enemies, but they will come back borne aloft in glory. We can see that God used the exile as a purification to help the people understand their dignity and mission as God’s people. This was not a quick round trip; the exile of Jerusalem began in 587 BC and the people were allowed to return in 538 BC.
In each of us, God works in whatever way is best. We see in the lives of some Saints a holiness from when they were very young, others had a conversion much later in their lives. Some suffered persecution and rejection while others were well thought of by the people around them. Some had a fairly straight path while others took a long and winding road. In every Saint, God’s providence is perfect and His plan for them is fulfilled in the manner that redounds to their sanctity and the glory and praise of God. So it is for us: God has begun this good work in us and will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus!
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 www.thewandererpress.com.