Kuwait City, 6, 7, 8 December 2013
Homily of the Apostolic Nuncio
His Grace Archbishop Petar Rajič
Second Sunday of Advent – A
Is 11:1-10; Rom 15:4-9; Mt 3:1-12
On this second Sunday of Advent the gospel reading presents John the Baptist, a key figure in the New Testament because of the special mission he had received from God to be the precursor of the Messiah. John lived a strange and lonely life in the desert, but it was in the desert that he encountered God and he came out of it not with some personal opinion but with a message from the Lord.
As herald of Jesus and the reign of God, John the Baptizer explained by word and example precisely how to go about preparing a welcome for Jesus. Those who came to hear him speak, in the Judean desert near the Jordan, were told “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. Repentance or reform requires a thorough and ongoing conversion. It implies that a person has found himself/herself on a wrong path or going in a wrong direction and has made a complete about-face or turnaround in order to return to God. In Greek, the term for conversion is metanoia, which means an absolute change of mind and will. During this Advent season we too are invited by the prophet to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Conversion is not simply a personal decision to better oneself; rather it is the free response of a person to the prior initiative of God who wishes to save us. In other words, conversion means offering a welcome to the God who continually comes and knocks at the door of the human heart. Another way of perceiving conversion is to understand it as a process of identifying oneself with Christ. To define or identify oneself with Christ requires that every thought, word, deed and decision be consonant with what the believer professes to be, a disciple and follower of Christ, who welcomes the reign of God.
John was not afraid of telling King Herod, the highest authority in the land, that he was in an unlawful marriage. He also told the Pharisees and Sadducees to their faces that they were hypocrites and the “brood of vipers”. There are very few people today who have the courage of John, to condemn sin and evil so bluntly and publicly even in the Church! The tendency today is to minimize the gravity of evil and sin, especially our own sins. A favourite modern term is to “downplay” everything. We think that our own sins are little things in comparison to other peoples’ big crimes. Sin remains sin, no matter how big or small. John’s rebukes were done in order to shed light upon the darkness he saw. John was like the wind of God, which swept throughout the country in order to clean the air and bring back some freshness.
John the Baptist called men to righteousness. He not only condemned their sins, but he summoned them to what they ought to do. “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” He not only criticized the evil ways of people, but challenged them to become what they could be. Indeed, it would be not enough for John, for the Church or any preacher to only condemn sin, but we must always encourage each other to do better, to become what we should be. This shows us that there is a way out of sin and evil, and that there do exist new opportunities with God, which he encourages us to take advantage of.
These words of John the Baptist are addressed to us as well, as we prepare for the arrival of our Lord at Christmas. Our best preparation for the arrival of our Lord and God is to examine our lives in the light of God’s word and change for the better. If we are honest with ourselves we will easily recognized that we too, certainly have things to repent for. There is not a person amongst us who can call him or herself righteous before the Lord. Sin is what prevents God’s entry into our lives, so why not rid ourselves of these barriers in order to be closer to God? We may be able to recognize our sins and even confess them, but true repentance requires a change of heart and life. It is not enough just to recognize sins and confess them, we must make the effort as well to avoid sinning in the future. This means giving up our sins to God so that he may destroy them for us through his merciful forgiveness.
The best way to prepare the way of the Lord is to repent and change our sinful ways and habits and then to produce good fruit in our daily deeds. What this means for each of us is that:
If I have been unfaithful to God and his commandments I will now be faithful;
If I have not loved others as I should, I will now love them more;
If I have been selfish, I will now be selfless and help others;
If I have been lazy or sleepwalking in my Christian life, now I will be awake;
If I have put off my salvation for the future, I will now live as a true Christian.
John also pointed beyond himself. “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John was a true prophet in his devotion to God alone. He did not seek glory or attention for himself, but his sole desire was to lead men to God, to the One who was to come after him. This is John’s true greatness before God. His aim was to prepare the way for the coming of the King and he knew well that the best way to prepare was to do penance.
Let us therefore prepare the way for the arrival of the Lord into our lives and our world, like John the Baptist, by repenting for our sins, making straight our ways and then leading others to God through the example of our Christian lives.