Something new in the Judean desert and Advent has new graces for us

Homily for Second Sunday of Advent Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

What a picture the Gospel paints today. John the Baptist is preaching in the desert wearing camel’s hair and a leather belt. His food is desert food, locusts and wild honey. He does not have anything sophisticated in his desert life. Yet this man, living a primitive lifestyle, lacking proper food and clothes, has become an attraction and a magnet. Why? The sophisticated needed God and did not find God in their lifestyles. We heard in the Gospel that the whole of the Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to John in the desert. Nothing like this had ever before happened. Previously if you wanted to meet God you went to the temple in Jerusalem. Now those in Jerusalem literally turned their backs to the temple and went out into the desert to John. He was preparing for Jesus who would replace the temple as the way to the Father. A second strange thing is that they were all baptized by John. Previously, only those converting to Judaism and becoming Jews were baptized to symbolize leaving their old way of life behind. Now the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were being baptized by John for forgiveness of their sins. This also shows there is something new occurring and an old way of life is being left behind. Who is coming? John explains,

One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. (Mark 1:7-8)

Jesus is coming and those baptized with the baptism of Jesus will receive the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist is preparing the whole of Judea and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem to receive Jesus, for whom the Old Testament had been longing.

We receive a different grace during every season of the Church year and there is a grace for us also this Advent. I think by looking at the Scripture readings this weekend we can see the graces for us. A grace for us this Advent is to make more room for Jesus in our lives. John the Baptist prepared the whole of Judea and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem to receive Jesus. During Advent, the Church, like John the Baptist, encourages us to prepare for Jesus. The whole of Judea and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem had to free up time in their lives to go to the desert to meet John the Baptist and be baptized. Like them, we can only prepare properly for Jesus by freeing up time in our lives to spend with Jesus. It is good to remember that this time before Christmas is to be for us a holy time, a holy season. The greatest prayer is the Mass so praying at daily Mass, if it were possible to attend daily, would be a great way to make room in our lives for Jesus. We want to pray in other ways every day. Prayer should be an important part of every day. Prayer doesn’t just fall out of the trees, prayer needs to be fed. We feed our prayer by reading Scripture just as when you talk to a friend you talk about what is on your mind. Read a passage from the Bible and then pray. Also the Rosary is a great prayer. As we spend time in prayer it is good to remember that God wants us to be intimate with him. The first reading today reminded us that God is like a shepherd who wants to take us up into his arms. When you pray allow God to take you up into his arms:

Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care. (Isa 40:11)

I think by looking at the Scripture readings this weekend we can see another grace for us this Advent. John the Baptist was preparing the people for the coming of Jesus. At last God’s plans in many places in the Old Testament would be fulfilled in Jesus. God also has a plan for the Second Coming of Jesus when the world will end in a dramatic way. The second reading today reminded us,

…the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out…the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. (2 Pet 3:10, 12)

Then heavens and earth will be replaced by the new heavens and new earth when the Church in heaven will surround Jesus. During Advent we are reminded to think about and long for the Second Coming because it will bring to completion all of God’s plans when good will triumph over all evil. True, we do not often think about or long for the End but in Advent we are reminded that it is good to long for the End and the Second coming of Jesus because then all of God’s plans will finally be realized just as Jesus was the realization of Old Testament hopes.

I think by looking at the Scripture readings this weekend we can see yet another grace for us this Advent. Those in Jerusalem turned their backs to the temple and went out into the desert to John. John was preparing them for Jesus who would replace the temple as the way to the Father. This was seen in a dramatic way when Jesus died. The curtain in the temple tore in two from top to bottom. The tear started at the top to show that no human did it; it was the Father showing that the way to him was no longer through the temple but through Jesus. We also have received a new way to pray this Advent. A grace for us this Advent is the new Roman Missal with its beautiful new prayers. Yes it may feel a little uncomfortable for a little while but this missal expresses our faith in much more accurate language. Our faith is expressed in the prayers of the Mass and that is why we want the best words and phrases in the Missal. Just as I said earlier that the Bible can feed our prayer, the Missal also feeds our faith and we want the best prayers in the Missal. The translation of these prayers is much closer to the words of the Bible so as we become more familiar with both the missal and Sacred Scripture we will see more and more the words and phrases of the Bible in these beautiful prayers which express our faith.

The whole of Judea and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were baptized by John the Baptist. That shows something new is just about to happen. John was preparing them for Jesus. The people had to free up time in their lives to go to meet John and Advent is a grace for us to free up time in our lives for Jesus by prayer and reading Scripture. As John prepared the people for the coming of Jesus he was preparing them for Jesus, the fulfillment of the Old Testament and God’s plans. Advent is a grace for us to think about and long for the End and the Second Coming of Jesus when all of God’s plans will finally be realized just as Jesus was the realization of Old Testament hopes. John the Baptist prepared the people for Jesus who would replace the temple as the way to the Father and a grace for us this Advent is the new Roman Missal whose prayers are expressed much more accurately to reflect our faith and feed our faith. Advent is a time of grace, it comes around just once before this Christmas.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2011

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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