Homily – ‘Tis the season of Advent

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Readings

First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10

A reading from the Book of Isaiah.

On that day:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist,
    and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
    and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall feed;
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.


The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the root of Jesse shall stand 
as an ensign to the peoples; 
him shall the nations seek, 
and his dwellings shall be glorious.

The Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17(R. see 7)

Let us now pray the Responsorial Psalm beginning and ending with the response:

R/. In his days shall justice flourish, and great peace for ever.

O God, give your judgement to the king, 
to a king’s son your justice, 
that he may judge your people in justice,
and your poor in right judgement.

In his days shall justice flourish,
and great peace till the moon is no more.


He shall rule from sea to sea,
from the River to the bounds of the earth.

For he shall save the needy when they cry,
the poor, and those who are helpless.


He will have pity on the weak and the needy, 
and save the lives of the needy.

May his name endure for ever, 
his name continue like the sun.
Every tribe shall be blest in him, 
all nations shall call him blessed.

R/. In his days shall justice flourish, and great peace for ever.

Second Reading: Romans 15:4-9

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.

Brothers and sisters: 

Whatever was written in former days 
was written for our instruction, 
that by steadfastness 
and by the encouragement of the scriptures 
we might have hope.


May the God of steadfastness and encouragement 
grant you to live in such harmony with one another, 
in accord with Christ Jesus, 
that together you may with one voice 
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, 
for the glory of God. 
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised 
to show God’s truthfulness, 
in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. 
As it is written,

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.”

The Word of the Lord.

Alleluia. Alleluia. 
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight; 
all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Alleluia.

Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew.

In those days came John the Baptist, 
preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 
For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah 
when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.”

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, 
and a leather belt around his waist; 
and his food was locusts and wild honey. 
Then went out to him Jerusalem 
and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, 
and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, 
confessing their sins.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees 
coming for baptism, 
he said to them, 


“You brood of vipers! 
Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 
Bear fruit that befits repentance, 
and do not presume to say to yourselves, 
‘We have Abraham as our father’; 
for I tell you, God is able from these stones 
to raise up children to Abraham. 
Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; 
every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit 
is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, 
but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, 
whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; 
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 
His winnowing fork is in his hand, 
and he will clear his threshing floor 
and gather his wheat into the granary, 
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The Gospel of the Lord.

Homily

Things are certainly warming up, aren’t they. Schools have not broken up yet, but there is an excitement in the air.

  • The shopping Christmas season is in full swing. 
  • There are the decorations in the shops around us. 
  • Many homes already have decorations and have set up Christmas trees and nativity scenes. 
  • Even with all the turmoil in our world these days, a lot of people are filled with the excitement of the season, especially if they have children. 
  • The kids’ excitement is contagious. 

But for those who come to church maybe we should apologize for putting a damper on the season. 

  • John the Baptist is featured in today’s gospel and he doesn’t look like, or sound like, what we might expect at this time of the year. 
  • He is a grisly looking prophet, wearing camel hair clothing and a raw leather belt. 
  • His diet matches his clothes, “locusts and wild honey.” 
  • John calls the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers.” 
  • “You brood of vipers! 
    Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 
    Bear fruit that befits repentance, 
    and do not presume to say to yourselves, 
    ‘We have Abraham as our father’; 
    for I tell you, God is able from these stones 
    to raise up children to Abraham. 
    Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; 
    every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit 
    is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
  • Hardly the “Christmas spirit.” 
  • He sounds more like Ebenezer Scrooge than a voice preparing for Christmas.

We live in very different world from the one that John the Baptizer lived in.  

  • Our world is hi-tech, with all our advanced forms of communication. 
  • On Friday evening we had a joy filled celebration of Carols by Candlelight. Photos and video clips were circulating there and then on WhatsApp and Facebook and YouTube while we were joining in singing the carols.
  • Our world is so different from the world of 2000 years ago.
  • What could John possible say to us today that would have any meaning?

Maybe we should call John the Baptizer a weird eccentric and dismiss him and his message. 

  • Except that something must have made sense to the people because they went out to the desert to hear him. 
  • John wasn’t invading their space. 
  • He wasn’t walking through their neighbourhoods, knocking at their doors, or showing up in their market places. 
  • He lived in the desert, far from their towns and villages. 
  • People had to put their lives on hold to travel into the wild desert where John lived to hear him. 

He was a prophet in the old style, a firebrand. 

  • God had sent similar prophets to the people before and people must have sensed in him traces of the God of their ancestors:
    • the God who rescued them from slavery, 
    • brought them across the harsh desert for forty years 
    • and led them into the Promise Land. 
  • God did it once, maybe God was going to deliver them from another tyrant, the Roman Empire and maybe John was the bearer of that good news. 
  • The people who heard John must have been excited with anticipation, finally God was about to help them. 

The people John spoke to were mostly poor people, not well educated, except for the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

  • But they knew their tradition, and they knew their scriptures. 
  • They believed the words of the prophet Isaiah, the words we heard in today’s gospel:
    • “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths.”’ 
  • Having felt so low, so oppressed, so tired of bad news, the people were excited by John’s presence and message – God was coming to help them. 

When we read the Bible, we are not reading just an ancient historical document relevant to the people in the past. 

  • In the Bible we encounter the living Word of God, and this living Word of God speaks to us today across all time. 
  • So John the Baptiser isn’t just speaking to people in a distant past. 
  • He is speaking to us as well: 
    • We are a people who want to make a difference.
    • We want to be able to change. 
    • We have attempted to do so in the past,
    •  but come here today willing to admit our need for help. 
    • We want to become the compassionate people Jesus calls us to be. 
    • We want to make good career choices that are filled with integrity and purpose. 
    • We want to keep our relationships healthy.
    • We hope to end our negative, even destructive, patterns of behaviour. 
  • And so John the Baptiser’s voice encourages those who are discouraged, or unsure of their self worth and abilities. 

As harsh as John the Baptiser sounded he did draw a crowd. 

  • He was popular because they needed help and he was a voice of clarity and sanity. 
  • They and we hear his promise:
    • someone is coming bearing a fire for spirits that are chilled by boredom, aimlessness and routine. 
  • John promises that our spirits, which are bloated with excess, can be revived by a new spirit. 
  • What has been chilled and feels tepid in us can be heated again by the fire of the coming Christ. 
  • John tells us, “[the Messiah] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 
  • That must have been an exciting message to hear! 
  • We cannot revive our spirits on our own. 
  • We need what John promises us – the gift of a renewed spirit. 
  • Unlike other gifts at this buying season, this spirit of renewal cannot be bought, or charged to a credit card. 
  • It cannot be owned and possessed only by the rich and powerful. 
  • It can’t be cornered and monopolized by any special religious elite.
  •  It is a gift that only God can give, a baptism, John says, “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” 

God is speaking with love and concern for us through John the Baptiser. 

  • God is sending someone out looking for us to bring us home,
    •  the one mightier than John, who will baptize with water and the Spirit. 
  • With that Spirit guiding us we will not lose our way. 
  • With that fire burning within us we will share what we believe with others who might still be on “cruise control.” 

We want more than just a jolly Christmas filled with tinsel and jingles. 

  • We want more than receiving the perfect Christmas item, or latest hi-tech gadget. 
  • John spells it out quite clearly what we want and need for Christmas. 
  • We want a renewing Spirit that will make us more attentive to God in our daily lives. 
  • We wait for that Spirit to move our faith beyond routine and formalism. 
  • We wait and long for a fire that will make more real, tangible and intense our love of God and neighbour. 
  • That’s what John tells us God wants to give us, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand…” for us too!

Knock, knock. Who’s there? John the Baptiser, with some bad news – you have to change.

  • And some wonderful good news too – God is coming to help with those changes.

From today’s Gospel reading:

[John told the people] I am baptizing you with water, for 
repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier
 than I…. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 

Reflection:

God is making a promise to us today through John the Baptist: Someone is coming bearing a fire for spirits that are chilled by boredom, routine and cynicism. John also promises the Holy Spirit for spirits bloated with excess and in need of a renewed spirit. These are gifts we cannot buy for ourselves, but this Advent God wants to give them to those who ask for —a purifying fire and the renewing Spirit. 

So, we ask ourselves: 

  • What touched me in the readings today?
  • What part of our lives needs a renewing and warming gift of divine fire?
  • Am I praying to the Holy Spirit to come into my life this Advent? 
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