2nd Sunday of Advent
December 10, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Over almost 30 years of teaching people about our Catholic faith,
one of the questions that people most frequently ask me,
especially Protestants and fallen away Catholics,
is why Catholics believe we have to go priest to receive God’s grace.
For example, why do we have to go to Mass
to receive the Eucharist through the priest,
or why we have to go to confession to a priest to have our sins forgiven.
The more knowledgeable folks will quote to me passage
from St. Paul’s first letter to St. Timothy, that says:
“there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
But the problem is that while Jesus is
the only way to the Father and the only Mediator,
it is clear elsewhere in Scripture that
it is the will of God the Father and Jesus
that other human beings participate in this mediation.
From the very beginning of God’s revelation of Himself to the Hebrews
3,800 years ago,
God has chosen individual human beings to act as His instruments
to communicate His will to the world.
People like Abraham, Moses and David, Elijah, Samuel, and Isaiah.
These people were sent to Israel to deliver God’s message, or to do His work
—to be His mediator.
And so today we find the Prophet Isaiah
acting as a mediator between God and man
in giving us one of the most important messages
ever given to man by God.
“Prepare the way of the Lord…make straight His paths.”
In fact, the message of God which Isaiah mediates to Israel
also tells the people that
there will be another great prophet
who would come to declare this message again to Israel
–a voice crying out in the desert
–a voice mediating between the Messiah and the people of Israel.
In today’s Gospel, St. Mark tells us that this long-promised mediator
who comes out of the desert
is the prophet, St. John the Baptist.
Still, why does God send mediators?
And why would we need any more mediators after Jesus
—after all, like Isaiah and the other Old Testament prophets,
John came before Jesus?
Advent is a season of preparation for Jesus’ coming into the world
—coming as one of us: a human being.
At the heart of this mystery of Christmas is the fact that God became one of us
to communicate with us more clearly and completely
—through His human bodily actions and words.
And so we read in the Mass of Christmas day, from the Gospel of St. John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God…
And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us,”
In His person, through His incarnation in the flesh
and His bodily entering into the world,
Jesus, the Word, is the great and perfect mediator
bringing God to man and man to God.
As St. John tells us elsewhere in Scripture:
“That which …we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,
…and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life….”
But Jesus took His body with Him when He ascended into heaven.
On the other hand, in a real sense He is still here in His body.
Of course, He’s here in His body which is the Eucharist.
But He’s also here in His body which is His Church,
which lives and acts through all and each of us.
—we are here, in our bodies,
still speaking with human words,
hearing with human ears, and seeing with human eyes.
And by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we received at Baptism,
Jesus lives in us, and acts in us and through us.
And so He continues to send human beings into the world
to mediate His message through the body:
through proclaiming and hearing the word;
by the symbols we see and touch,
and the sacraments we receive.
So that all of us are called to mediate God to the world in some way
–just as it’s been throughout all Salvation History.
Some are called to be great public prophets, like Isaiah and St. John the Baptist.
Some are called to be apostles like St. Peter and St. Mark and their successors
–the pope and the bishops.
And some are called to be pastors, or priests.
And in this great mystery of the priesthood
–through the mediation of a human being sent by God—
Christ can come to us, and we can come to Christ.
By the priests’ proclamation of the Gospel,
and by the sacramental signs they administer
and that we hear and feel and see and taste,
Jesus Christ comes to us in a most unique and clear way.
Not so much because of the priest himself,
but because of Christ who acts through them.
The Gospel today tells us that 2000 years ago the great mediator
St. John the Baptist, proclaimed
“a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
And in response, as Scripture says,
“People of the whole Judean countryside and Jerusalem
were going out to [John]
…as they acknowledged their sins.”
Today, we do much the same thing as we go to the sacrament of penance
and acknowledge, or confess, our sins before God’s appointed mediators.
But when we hear those mediators say, “I absolve you from your sins”
we hear in their human voices,
them mediating not the voice of St. John,
but them mediating the voice
of THE ONE TRUE mediator between God and man:
The voice Isaiah talks about today when he says:
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that …. her guilt is expiated…
Comfort, give comfort to my people.”
Priests have this role as mediators in this special way
—and it’s a great gift to the whole Church.
But as I said before, by your baptism in water and the Holy Spirit
all of you were also made to be mediators of Christ.
Like ordained priests, you are all called to “prepare the way of the Lord,”
by proclaiming to your family and friends and coworkers,
by your words and your good example,
the joyful news of Christ’s coming into the world 2000 years ago
to bring merciful forgiveness for those who repent their sins,
to dwell with all His power and peace in those who will accept Him;
to tenderly comfort all who are prepared to welcome Him.
For many devout Christians, this Advent season is a time when
this call can elicit a very strong emotional response from us.
We hear: “prepare the way of the Lord”
and our hearts are moved to respond, “yes Lord.”
But then most of us stop on that emotional level:
we don’t really try very hard to carry it out.
Sometimes we don’t try because of we we’re afraid.
Sometimes we don’t try because
we’ve tried before and nothing seemed to happen.
And sometimes we don’t try because
we really don’t know how to prepare the way.
But no matter what our reason is for holding back,
God still calls us.
If your excuse is that you’re afraid, remember that Isaiah tells us today:
“Fear not to cry out and say…`Here is your God'”.
And if your excuse is that you’ve tried before with so little or no results,
remember that you are only the messenger, the mediator.
Jesus is the one working through you.
And as St. Peter reminds us today in the 2nd reading:
“with the Lord one day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years is like one day.”
It may seem like your efforts are fruitless, but your effort is only instrumental
–you prepare the way only by doing your best
to allow God to act through you,
and then you wait to see how God finishes the work without you.
Remember that even the great mediator of the Messiah, St. John the Baptist,
recognized that his work was incomplete and only an opening for the Lord:
“One who is more powerful is to come after me.”
And as the all-powerful Jesus Christ acts through you,
don’t worry about seeing results
–be patient, as St. Peter tells us:
“The Lord does not delay…though some consider it delay.”
And finally, if your excuse is that you just don’t know how to prepare His way,
remember that the best place to start preparing is with yourself.
As you attempt to: “Clear a straight path for the Lord”,
let it first be a clear path to your own heart.
And begin doing that by following the message of the Baptizer
–confess and repent of your sins: big and small;
–renounce your vices, your bad habits;
–remove any obstacles that might lay on the road between God and you;
–and open your heart to the word of God
proclaimed in Scripture and the teaching of the Church.
It is God’s will and God’s plan
that the human mediation of God to man
did not end when Christ ascended into heaven.
Few of us are called to be public figures
mediating like Isaiah or St. John the Baptist.
And not all of us are called to be ordained priests.
But every single one of us is called to—in some way—
go out into the world and prepare the world to receive Jesus Christ.
And this is especially the case
during the season of preparation for the coming of Christ:
this season of Advent.
As we now move more deeply into the Mystery of this Holy Mass,
as the Lord Jesus descends to this altar
and becomes truly present in his real Body,
and then comes to you in Holy Communion, and abides in you,
His very Body dwelling in your very body,
hear with your heart and with the ears of your body,
as He calls on you,
through the mediation of St. John the Baptizer, and of your priest,
to go out into the world this Advent and,
“Prepare the way of the Lord…[and] make straight his paths.”