CACINA

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A 2013-14

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, ethics, inspirational, religion, scripture, Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on December 1, 2013

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A  2013-14

Bishop Stephens’ collection of Year A homilies from past year A’s is available online at Amazon.com. It is called Teaching the Church Year.

 

I have a tree-like plant on my back deck. I have no idea what the name of the plant is, but I bought it two summers ago and was told that it was a not a perennial and that it would have to be thrown out at the end of the season.  I never got around to doing more than clipping it down last autumn, however, and was very surprised the next Spring to see blooms on it. It was even nicer this year than it was last! A pleasant surprise!

Our first reading – one of the most beautifully composed of all the prophecies – is something like the story of my plant. The plant could be compared to Jesse who is the main root and stem. Jesse was the father of King David, the first of the Hebrew kings, and for around 400 years the descendants of Jesse were the Kings of Israel.  But all of this came to an end, the season’s end one might say, when the Babylonians came and conquered as the first of many nations to enslave the Jewish people. After the winter of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, it seemed like the root of Jesse would never blossom again. But it does, of course, in Jesus Christ.

The prophet Isaiah describes this re-blossoming of the root of Jesse, and even more, describes the descendant that is to become the King of Israel.  From earliest times, this has been seen by Christians as a description of the Christ – Jesus.

In the most beautiful of images Isaiah describes how the Lord God’s spirit will rest on this person and bring wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the lord. Some of you might recognize these as part of what we say the Holy Spirit brings us with the sacrament of Confirmation – the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The rest of the description seems to describe Jesus and his teachings so well: He shall not judge by what his eyes see or ears hear; he judges the poor with righteousness, he brings equality to the weak, he speaks with great courage, and puts down the wicked with words rather than with weapons. He is clothed with righteousness and faithfulness.

Then Isaiah does more than describe the inner qualities of the Messiah, but explains “what” the Messiah will do and bring to us. These are images of a non-violent world, a peaceful world, a child’s world, with not hurt or destruction – almost a new Eden.

Finally, he brings out the theme that I mentioned last week that would be an ongoing theme in both the Gospel of Matthew and the readings this year: “The root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the people; the nations shall inquire of him...” (Is. 11:10)

When Jesus tells us to go out to all the world, to evangelize, he is fulfilling what Isaiah says the Messiah will ask us to do so that “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.” (Is 11:9) No wonder the early Church saw this as a description of Jesus – a Messiah who was not a typical King, but offered the promise of a new Paradise, a new kingdom. Jesus, the blossom that this root of Jesse produces after it has been pruned, offers so much more than we or the Hebrews could ever have hoped for. Salvation!

The Psalm today re-iterates much of what Isaiah has prophesied, with some of the same imagery. The result in Psalm 72 is also the same – a new Paradise, a new Kingdom where righteousness flourishes and peace abounds, “till the moon is no more” – in other words, till the end of time.

Paul in Romans today picks up Isaiah’s  theme of evangelization as well, reminding us that the Hebrew Testament says that we must go out to the Gentiles so that the Gentiles “might glorify God for his mercy.” (Rom 15:9).

When we get to the Gospel we read the first section of Matthew writing about John the Baptist. Like Isaiah, John was seen as a prophet as well. We are told that Isaiah prophesied John himself when he foresaw the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. By today’s standards, John was not a very attractive person. He was a recluse –  dirty, rather wild and strange looking.  But people were attracted to him because he was a dynamic, if somewhat frightening speaker. He was not afraid to tell off the Pharisees and the Sadducees, even when they were coming to him for baptism. To be baptized by John, a person had to be repentant, they had to confess their sins.  John did not feel that the Pharisees or Sadducees were truly repentant, but were hiding behind the laws of Abraham, legalistic, and not caring for others. It reminded me of Pope Francis recently calling the Curia a leprosy on the Vatican! John was rather like that with his “Brood of vipers!”

Then John explains what has to happen to be baptized by him – there has to be sorrow and repentance shown because he himself was not able to forgive. Forgiveness came from inside and from God. Baptism was only the outward sign of it. When this person who is to come after him, this Jesus comes, John says, he will baptize differently – with the Holy spirit and fire! He will be able to see the truth in every person and know who will bear good fruit and who will not. His baptism will open the kingdom of heaven, lost by Adam and Eve, and those who are good fruit will be gathered to enter it.

What does all of this mean for us today? It is more than just a history lesson and a beautiful description of the prophets regrading Jesus, the Messiah. To answer that, I would like to go back to my little deck tree which I pruned and which surprised me by blooming. Advent is a time for pruning, as is Lent.  It is a time to look at ourselves and to examine our motives for doing things. We need to prepare the way for Christ to come into the world again through us. We need to prepare for the birth of Jesus as a rebirth for ourselves – to prune away the things that get in the way of new growth. We need to look to the needs of others and, as in Isaiah, answer the questions that the nations, the unbelievers, will inquire of us. We need to live our faith to the fullest and to integrate our Sunday experience in a our daily lives. We need to rekindle our relationship with God, using the gifts the Spirit has given us in Baptism and Confirmation, and by blossoming, showing the world that the kingdom, the new Paradise, the new Eden, is possible – even on earth.  It’s a big path to straighten, but well worth it! And how wonderful our Christmas will be as we perhaps recognize the first blossoms of our rekindled relationship with God and with others.

And this is the Good News I wish you today on your Advent journey!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese

Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

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