Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from December 10, 2017

ADVENT II - B - 17                  MARK 1.1-8

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The opening line of Mark’s gospel leaves no room for misunderstanding. What the author is about to reveal is indeed good news. It was the news God’s people had long been waiting to hear. God was about to act on their behalf.

However, they were not expecting to hear it from the likes of John Baptist. Who was he? Where did he come from? What was he saying?

The second Sunday of Advent is always about John the Baptist, the man. John played a crucial role in the history of salvation. God chose him before his birth to be the herald and forerunner of the Messiah. He was a man with a message direct from God and he delivered it to God’s people like one of the prophets of old. He even dressed the part.

St. Luke writes of John’s miraculous conception (LK 1.24). He then records that when the B.V. Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with John, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped at the sound of Mary’s voice (LK 1.41).

We hear nothing more of him until he unexpectedly appears out of the desert and on the banks of the Jordan River “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Here he carries out the prophetic role assigned to him some thirty years before.

Jesus taught that John fulfilled the prophecy of the return of Elijah (Matt. 11.14), who was to precede the Messiah, as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” John’s work was crucial to Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus considered John’s testimony important, not because Jesus, the Son of God, needed to be validated by any human witness, but because the people’s acceptance of John as a godly man prepared them to accept Jesus as well.

The season of Advent begins each year with Jesus’ warning of the coming of the end of time and our need to prepare for it as we heard in last week’s gospel. From the future, we go backwards to the coming of John Baptist as the forerunner of Christ. The Advent season is filled with signs, symbols and hymns that announce the period of waiting, expecting and anticipating.

Mark’s gospel opens with the announcement that the period of waiting was ending. John baptized and preached repentance, as a means of preparing God’s people for the coming of the Promised One who he said would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Israel had been looking for a sign from God, but they had not expected it to look like this.

Many had wanted a Messiah to lead them against the Romans, but they were not anticipating a prophet dressed like Elijah telling them to repent. God’s people wanted freedom but they had no idea what freedom would look like when it came.

John’s message was a “wake up call.” Here he was literally splashing cold water in their faces and telling them to get ready for the greatest moment in Jewish history, in world history. They certainly were not ready. They needed smartening up a bit.

Their expectations were all wrong. They were looking the wrong way and going in the wrong direction. It was time to turn around and go the right way. That is what repentance means.

It was time to stop dreaming and wake up to God’s reality. John’s message produced a religious awakening that rattled the Jewish leaders of his day and sent shock waves as far as Rome itself. His task was to make “straight” in the desert a highway for our God by preparing the people to meet their king.

I have traveled the present day road from Galilee to Judea and to the Holy City of Jerusalem. The terrain is rugged. The topography varies from hill to valley. There are lots of twists and turns along the way.

The Jordan Valley is anything but a straight shot from one end to the other. For those pilgrims that made that journey on the high holy days it must have seemed like a lifetime getting there. However, they never lost sight of their goal.

Our journey to God is no different. It too is a life time road; a journey that began for each of us at the font of life where we were buried with Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism and raised to new life in Him. From the font, we are called to walk the way of the cross. Along this road, we are called to live lives of holiness and godliness until Jesus comes again.

Those of us who have been making that journey for many years now can attest to the fact that there are up hill climbs, rapid descents, and sometimes a valley here and there. The path is not always a straight one. We go forward in faith and hope waiting, expecting and anticipating the day when Christ will come again and usher in the fullness of God’s kingdom.

God has given us the Holy Spirit to direct our path. God has given us the sacrament of the altar we now approach as a means of feeding us with but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet we hope to one day enjoy in the eternal presence of the One neither John nor any one of us is worthy to stoop down and untie the thongs of his sandals.

The Church has given us the Advent season as an opportunity to “smarten up a bit,” by reflecting on our Christian pilgrimage, our personal walk to Bethlehem. Where do we find ourselves on the road to fruitfulness as God’s children? What areas of our lives need straightening out?

We are on a lifetime journey to God. Our hope is in the coming of the kingdom of God. We should live our lives in such a way that we shall arrive at that goal. We must not lose sight of it.

It sounds simple enough but we all know the struggle to maintain a holy life in a world of bright lights and tinsel that seeks to divert our attention by calling us to focus on the here and now.

It takes intention and effort to keep our eyes on the goal of God’s coming kingdom. It takes intention and effort to follow Him who has opened the way for our Salvation. It is by intention and effort, faith and the grace of God we are able to continue the journey from crèche to cross to unfading crown. AMEN+


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