Sunday Sermon for December 8, 2019, the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A
Readings: Is 11:1-10; Rom 15:4-9; Mt 3:1-12
In the Gospel reading today St. John the Baptist calls the people to repentance because “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” This is the same message Jesus preached when He began His public ministry. It is also the same thing we pray for every time we pray the Our Father and ask that His Kingdom come. The fact that St. John the Baptist and Jesus were both preaching that the Kingdom of God was at hand tells us that it is already present. At the same time, the fact that we continue to pray for the Kingdom to come tells us there is more coming than what is already here.
There are two senses in which this is true. The first and most important is the interior sense. Jesus explicitly told us that the Kingdom of God is within. The more we grow in holiness, the more our soul becomes the Kingdom of God where the King reigns. There is also an external sense where we will see the order of creation restored, as we hear about in the first reading. The chaos we see around us today is caused by sin. St. John the Baptist called upon the Pharisees and Sadducees to not only receive the baptism for the forgiveness of sins, but to “produce good fruit as the evidence of your repentance.”
To have our sins forgiven is essential and it is a great gift from the Lord. However, true repentance requires conversion, a change in the way we are living. It is one thing to acknowledge our sins and confess them, it is entirely another thing to amend our lives so we stop offending God with our sins.
Similar to the time of Jesus, Advent is a time of expectation. Advent has us looking back to the first coming of our Lord in order to teach us how to prepare for His second coming. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul recounts the events of the Old Testament and reminds them: “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by the endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” When he wrote these words there was no New Testament. Today we can apply these words to ourselves and include the events of both the New Testament as well as the Old.
From the letters of St. Paul elsewhere in the Scriptures, we know that times of transition are difficult. This is why St. Paul would refer to the endurance, the encouragement, and the hope. We need endurance because things are going to take time. We need encouragement because we may become discouraged. We need hope because we may struggle with despair. At the time St. John the Baptist was preaching, many people were despairing because the Romans occupied the Holy Land; Herod, a non-Jew, was the King; and it may have appeared that God had abandoned them. It is amazing that in the midst of this chaos the Son of God was born into this world, that He walked among the very people who thought God had abandoned them, and that He died for our sins.
Recalling this pattern, we can know God is with us in the closest way, even if we do not perceive His presence. He may choose to remain hidden for a long time before He reveals Himself in a most powerful manner. In this way God will test our fidelity and reward those who love Him and remain faithful. St. Paul tells us Jesus came to the Jews to show God’s truthfulness and to confirm the Patriarchs. Every promise made by God will be fulfilled perfectly and completely. This is what the Jewish people were called to see in Jesus. St. Paul also says Jesus came so the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. Upon His return, Jesus will reveal to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, the truthfulness of God, and fulfill all the promises made in the Scriptures. Everyone will see His glory and will glorify God.
This is what we are called to be doing already. We who know Jesus are called to repent and show the evidence of our repentance through good works. We are also called to make straight the way of the Lord in our hearts. This requires removing the areas of sin and selfishness that prevent us from living as true citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Advent is a time of expectation and, thereby, a time of preparation. We need to prepare spiritually for Christmas, but more importantly, we need to prepare our hearts to receive our Lord and conform our lives to His will. By our endurance, encouragement, and hope we will show the truthfulness of God, confirm His promises, and 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 www.thewandererpress.com.