Rejoice in the Lord

3rd Sunday in Advent (A); 12-11-16

Is 35:1-6, 10   Ps 146   Jas 5:7-10   Mt 11:2-11

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom & SJB

 

In the middle of Advent we pause for a moment of rejoicing. It’s not rejoicing that comes from taking a rest amid the Advent journey, but it is joy that comes from having perspective.

Like John the Baptist, we need assurances that the journey is worth the effort. John is in jail and needs hope and some sort of vision that assures him that his life has not been in vain. While in jail, he begins to hear the deeds of Jesus and he wonders “Is He the One?” So, he sends his disciples to ask Jesus that very question. That is the whole understanding of Advent: is this Child the One?

If we answer “yes,” our hearts will rejoice and we will be radically changed which is the theme from Isaiah. His poetry is strikingly beautiful: what a remarkable sight when the desert blooms “with abundant flowers.”

Not only will nature be rejuvenated, but humans too will be restored. With the coming of Emmanuel and when the Kingdom of God becomes a reality, we will get our sight back; we will be able to hear. We don’t have to do that much; that’s what the Spirit is for. By trusting in the promise of Christmas, we will extend and deepen our belief. God will carry us where we need to go.

John let God carry him, and he did everything asked of him. He poured his whole life into making the crooked way straight and preparing the way for the Messiah. John was a man of integrity, now in prison paying the price for that integrity. But, as good as John is—“Amen, I say to you, among those born of woman there has been none greater than John the Baptist—yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Mt 11:11). We are greater than John the Baptist if we are actively cooperating with the vision and salvation of Jesus. We are greater than John the Baptist if we do what is asked of us which is to prepare His way in the world, to bring His Kingdom into the world, and make sure His way is straight and narrow and true. All this is to say that we believe and act on what Jesus taught as we share communion with him.

When we do, when we act on our faith, the stumbling blocks fall by the wayside. Advent is about finding any stumbling blocks that prevent us from seeing Who this Child really is why God would become human. Advent is also about finding the ways we are stumbling blocks for other people to believe in Jesus because we don’t always act like we believe in Jesus. When people look at us, do they see Jesus incarnated?

Do they see us being merciful as Jesus is?

Advent is a time when Jesus is reaching his hand out to us, saying, “You have a lot to learn; do you want to walk this year in grace? I want your hand, your life. I want your heart and soul. I want you.” How are we going to respond?

The messengers go back to John, but the story does not tell us how John responded. Maybe John started praising God in prison because he believed that Jesus could give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf. Perhaps that was the moment it all came together and there were no stumbling blocks for John. He knows that Jesus is the Messiah and he rejoices. He probably stood in his cell and sang joyfully.

What Sunday is this? Gaudete Sunday—when there is no stumbling blocks, not only joy, exhilaration, and jubilation that is given to those who believe that this person is the Messiah, that this is God among us. We can tell the depth of our faith by how joyful we are, which is the inexpressible sign that we are living in the presence of God. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit and literally confirms that we are believers in Jesus. That no matter what we face, the Kingdom is here and how. We know what the Kingdom of God is like because we see it perfectly reflected in Jesus. We want to abide in His life the rest of our lives because this is the only life worth living.

 

 

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The Peaceable Kingdom

2nd Sunday of Advent; 12-4-16

Is 11:1-10   Ps 72   Rom 15:4-9   Mt 3:1-12

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

 

         The 1st Sunday of Advent was about “becoming a peacemaker,” and never training for war again and what it is we’re waiting for and how to wait in hope. People who in the minority hope differently than those who seek hope in the goods of the world. Promises from God sound very different to a minority who seem to have the deck stacked against them then the promises of those who are wealthy and are in control, who are a part of the dominant culture.

Christianity is always about a remnant: a minority, a counter-cultural group. Mainstream Christianity seems to have little impact on our dominant culture. But, as G.K. Chesterton once said, it’s not that Christianity has failed and found wanting, but it has never been tried by the majority of people—including Christians! The closer we get to the heart of Catholicism, the smaller the remnant becomes. But, the remnant is like a signal-flare that gives witness to the heart of the faith.

 

The first reading from Isaiah is about the remnant, which is reflected in the peaceable kingdom. All the animals live in harmony, though it’s so difficult for humans to do so. We want harmony, but we prepare for war. “If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything else is going to look like a nail.” It our current world situation, living without war an in harmony seems unattainable if not impossible. But, if we don’t think that’s possible can we really accept the idea of God becoming a human being? We need to expand our way of thinking, believing, and seeing, because God did indeed became human.

 

The account of St. John the Baptist continues the “sock-it-to-you” readings. John is about judgment, but is also about joy because he goes before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways. Somehow, part of that preparation is about judgment. Let’s see how John prepares the way.

 

The preaching of John the Baptist, Matthew 3:1-12. Let’s look at this Sunday’s gospel. John the Baptist is really in your face. When asked whether they’d like to meet someone like John, most people would say, “Check, please.” Like all prophets, John sees reality.   That’s why we don’t like them. They see as God sees it and point to things (about ourselves, our human condition) that we don’t want to see. We go to great pains to hide our darkness, even doing very pious and religious practices to disguise our hardness; the Pharisees and Sadducees were, after all, very strict in their religious practices. In fact, they were the heads of religious groups. John goes after those who have power within political and religious structures and who use that power to dominate, control, and manipulate.

John’s message is one repentance and preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Somehow, part of that preparation is judgment. In order to be prepared for something, we’ve got to take stock of who we are, who we’ve become, what we’ve got and don’t got, where our weaknesses are, and where we’re missing the boat. The story of the Baptist really begins when we ask ourselves what is my sin and do I have time to undo it? What am I going to do regarding this call to conversion—to prepare a place for the Messiah? Am I wiling to make the changes necessary so that the quality of my life will be different from what came before? Make no mistake: the call to conversion is NOW!

John the Baptist asks the hard questions, shows us where we are and leaves us to make a choice. The message of John is quite clear: if we don’t repent, convert, we won’t know who Jesus is. John is a necessary stage before we can encounter Jesus; before Jesus can proclaim the Good News—the Kingdom of God—we have to denounce the Bad News—the False Kingdom. John points to something bigger than who he is. If we can’t deal with John, then we won’t be able to deal with the One who comes after because He calls us to an even more radical conversion. John recognizes this when he says that he is not even worthy to bend down and until His sandals. John is very clear in his vocation: if we don’t reform and if we have trouble with him, wait until you see what the One with the winnowing fan is going to do!

How do we know that we are embracing conversion? John challenges us to give some kind of concrete evidence that we mean to reform: “to produce good fruit” as he states it. Between now and Christmas what sort of evidence will emerge that shows that we are open to reform and change so that we can see the Child, Who is the fire? Jesus is not a cuddly child in a manger, but the One who will rock the very foundations of the entire world. He is the One who brings Light and Fire.

Brothers and sisters, we know the Christmas story! It’s up to us. If there is going to be justice, peace, harmony, and happiness within our hearts, then we’ve to make it a reality. Pablo Picasso said, “You’ve got the canvas, brushes, and oils. If you can imagine it, talk about it, or express it in some way, you can make it a reality.” If there is going to be peace on earth in some form that is going to be new and radical and yet very natural, it will be because we’ve taken John’s call to conversion seriously.