Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

December 5, 2021
St. Joseph Catholic Church
Arlington, Texas

Baruch 5:1-9
Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
Luke 3:1-6

We have just proclaimed the Gospel that reveals that “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

The voice of John the Baptist proclaims the word of repentance, but the Word has first come to him in the wilderness. The Word bypasses all the contemporary powerful figures in temporal and religious leadership and comes to the wilderness to lowly John who is born of Zachariah and Elizabeth who were from families of priestly tribes. These same powerful political figures and religious potentates will also overlook and ignore the birth in Bethlehem of the Word made flesh because He will come among the poor and the lowly, who enjoy preferential status in the eyes of God. Thus, in John the Baptist we see the last and greatest of the prophets and the last of the priests of the Old Covenant as he prepares the way of the Lord through his preaching of a path of conversion. As Pope Benedict XVI once observed, “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor… in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.” The great event, the birth of Christ, which His contemporaries did not even notice, fits into this historical framework. For God the great figures of history serve as a frame for the lowly!”

The path of conversion that John preaches fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah which indicated that the voice calling for the preparation for the coming of Christ would be crying out in the wilderness or the desert. The path of conversion is one of repentance that makes straight crooked paths and raises and levels valleys. The conversion and repentance called for in Advent urgently requires the humble pursuit of forgiveness from those whom we have offended, beginning with God and leading to other human beings. The straightened paths of conversion indicate how urgently we must prepare for Christ’s coming. We cannot dawdle and straggle by taking the scenic route of procrastination, excuses, and blame. We must take the straight path because the most direct route is a straight line, and we must be ready to greet Christ with pure hearts displaying morally righteous characters when He comes again to judge the world and to inaugurate His Kingdom. The valleys are low points in our journey out of the wilderness of sin into the ultimate destination of the Kingdom of God, marked by authentic love of God and neighbor. Our turning to God for His forgiveness and grace to turn away from sin is how the valleys will be raised up and our destination more easily attained.

The path of conversion on which we travel together as the Church and as believers is not an easy path and it cannot be trod without a willingness to change and our reliance on God’s grace. As Pope Francis once said, “The believer is someone who, by being close to his brothers and sisters, like John the Baptist, opens pathways in the desert, that is, he indicates perspectives of hope, even in those existential contexts that are arduous, marked by failure and defeat. We cannot give up in the face of negative situations of closure and rejection: we must not allow ourselves to succumb to the mentality of the world, because the center of our life is Jesus and His word of light, love, and solace.”

To become lowly means nothing more than we become honest with God and with our neighbors. To become honest will lead us to become kinder and more compassionate as well as stronger and more just. The ordinary way for us to become lowly in Advent is for us to seek recourse to the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and confess our sins with true contrition and sorrow and with a firm purpose of amendment to change our ways.

Then we can clearly and joyfully make known through our lives the fulfillment of the prophecy of Baruch: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the miter that displays the glory of the eternal name. For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.”

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