Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on November 29, 2015


The joyful movement of today’s liturgy is best expressed by the antiphon for our responsorial psalm:  The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy. Last week’s theme was a little gloomy in comparison, as we looked at the end of the world and the fear that that will engender, yet leading to a glorious life with God for the faithful ones. Today we concentrate on the joy of  God’s fulfilled promise. The prophet Baruch starts us off today with a really upbeat reading when he tells us to take off our black mourning garments and put on the glory of God! This beautiful prediction of God’s final victory over the forces of evil, the captives being brought back home and the roughness of the natural terrain softened to accommodate our human movement. Mountains are made low and valleys are filled up, deserts become shaded with trees and everything is to be bathed in the light of God’s glory.

Baruch does not divide civilization into the sinners and the faithful as we did last week, but his hope is that all Jews will repent by acknowledging their sinfulness and their need for God, and all will be welcomed into this light of God. Just as a side note, despite the optimism and beauty of the Book of Baruch, it is not one of the books the Jews or the Protestants include in their Bibles, as Catholics always have. They are missing some optimistic and beautiful visions when they don’t include it.

Then Psalm 126 ices this joyful cake with its take on the return of the exiles. Sadness turns to laughter, bad fortunes are reversed and all “come home with shouts of joy!”

Now if this doesn’t sound a whole lot like the glum and sin-soaked repenting that we are used to hearing in Advent, it really is what Advent is about. We don’t forget the repentance part, though, but we concentrate on the results of that turning back, that acknowledgment of our sinfulness, and our repentance. And so, our Gospel today, still not beginning at the beginning, jumps to Luke’s Chapter 3 where we meet John the Baptist. Luke has told us that he wanted to set the record straight and we are told that he wants to write an historically accurate account – though what he means by historical accuracy is hardly what we mean by it today. And so, he begins Chapter 3 with the historical context. In one sentence, he places John the Baptist in the historical situation.  It happened in the 15th year of the Roman Tiberius’ reign. We learn that Pontius Pilate was the governor of all Judea, that King Herod was the ruler in Galilee while his brother King Philip ruled Iturea and Trachonitis and King Lysanius was the ruler of Abilene, all neighboring kingdoms.  So Luke is very exact in his dating of events as he is trying to teach Greeks who didn’t know much of Judean history the validity of his work.

Then we meet John and we know immediately he is a prophet because Luke identifies him with the prophet Isaiah, giving him context in Hebrew history. Luke summarizes the message of John the Baptist very simply: he was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” That simply means that he was using the image of cleansing with water as an outward sign of what he wanted to happen interiorly to his followers. When they had admitted their sins and repented, they were washed clean in the waters as a visible sign of it. Without repentance, there could be no forgiveness of sin.

So we then get a picture of John who comes out of the wilderness, a sign that he has fasted and prayed, and he is immediately compared by Luke to Isaiah’s prophecy. Luke doesn’t often use the Hebrew scriptures because he is writing to Gentiles, unlike Matthew or Mark, but he does here because it gives proof of John’s ability to prophesy. The quote from Isaiah is a common one for all of us by now, especially if you know Handel’s Messiah, but it concerns a person appearing from the wilderness and crying out that his mission is to get the people ready for someone great who is coming. I mentioned last week that another major theme of Luke was salvation for not just Jews but for all mankind, and the end of Isaiah’s quotation picks up on that theme when it says: all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

The second reading today from Paul also picks up on this “joyfulness” theme, but now we are in the future, after Christ’s death. In these three readings, we move from prediction to actuality to after effect. Paul is constantly praying in joy for his Gentile brothers and sisters. He has been able to witness all flesh seeing the salvation of our God, and he is able to see the earthly result of it in the love that the brothers and sisters bear for each other. His prayer for his converts is that their love may overflow more and more and that the Spirit bring them knowledge and insight  to help them live good lives so they will be ready for the second coming of Christ. 

I hope that today’s readings allow you reach forward in your minds and look toward the past event of Christ’s birth, his Incarnation, and look forward to this second coming when the kingdom will be fully here. We do this through love – how very cliché that sometimes sounds, but Christmas should mean love and finding ways to show that love – to our relatives and to strangers. We have four weeks to evaluate how we are doing in our love of God and neighbor, to look back over our lives, evaluate, and if there are things that need changing, to set out to do them. When we do, we can truly celebrate the first of many days of God’s love for us – the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

There was a famous movie and book by John Osborne – Look Back in Anger. The readings today suggest that that is wrong. We need to look Back in Love!  And that is the Good News we all need to hear as each day grows darker literally and figuratively. Now we know what to do about it!

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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