2nd Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
The last few days I’ve been reading the new book-length interview
with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, called “Last Testament.”
This got me to thinking of one of his best papal encyclicals
that has great meaning for us at this time of year
—the Encyclical “Spe Salvi,” Saved in Hope.”
If you haven’t read it I commend it to you as a wonderful way
to revitalize your understanding of Advent,
the season of looking back to the hope fulfilled
in Christ’s birth 2000 years ago
and forward in hope to His coming to us today
and at the end of time.
The coming of the Christ was greatly anticipated from the very beginning,
when God promised Adam and Eve
that He would send a savior who would have enmity with the devil
and would crush the serpent’s head.
This promise was renewed and explained
through the centuries by the Jewish prophets,
especially the great prophet of the Messiah, Isaiah.
As we read in both today’s first reading from Isaiah and in the Psalm,
God repeatedly promised that the Messiah
would come in the fullness of divine power;
he would judge justly, punish the wicked,
and bring an abiding and lasting peace to the whole world.
Based on these and other prophesies,
the faithful Jews of the Old Testament lived for centuries on hope
that one day God would take away all the hardships of life
and reestablish things as He had created them for Adam and Eve.
This was the hope that kept them going through
centuries of suffering and oppression.
As St. Paul writes in today’s 2nd reading:
“Whatever was written previously was …for our instruction,
that by …the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.”
You can imagine then, how the Jews 2000 years ago
were so excited by the coming of John the Baptist.
To many he seemed to be the great prophet that Isaiah had said would
immediately precede the Messiah:
“A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord.”
And here he was, proclaiming the fulfillment of the ancient hope:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
As many soon discovered through John,
it was Jesus of Nazareth who fulfilled the ancient hope of Israel
—in Christ, the kingdom of heaven came to earth.
And yet, today we recognize
that the prophesies still haven’t been completely fulfilled.
The leopard does not lie down with the kid,
and the earth is not filled with the knowledge of the Lord:
all the gifts God gave to man in creation are still corrupted by sin.
Still, Christ remains our hope, and the hope of all mankind.
Because His kingdom is not of this world, even though it is in the world.
In His first coming He established that kingdom
for those who choose to belong to it,
those who live with Him and love Him.
This kingdom, then, is already truly already “at hand”, even if imperfectly.
So we live in hope:
hope that no matter what evil happens to me today,
no matter who abandons me, no matter what
calamity or suffering befall me,
and no matter what small or terrible sins I have to repent,
Christ is with me, to strengthen me, sustain me, give me peace,
forgive me, and to love me.
And even though this world is
constantly filled with pain and injustice,
in hope, we know that one day Christ will come again in his glory
to establish a new heaven and new earth
of true justice and perfect happiness.
This is our hope, and the hope of all mankind –
the hope for now, today and the future.
The answer to every man, woman and child’s deepest desire:
to attain not only that which is good, but absolutely perfect.
The desire not only not to be hungry, but to eat
the most delicious food in abundance.
The desire not only to be busy, but creative and productive.
And above all,
the desire not only not to be hated or ignored,
but to be loved,
and even more: to be loved completely and always without question.
And the only “thing” that answers all these desires is
the One who is eternal life and perfect love Himself: Jesus Christ.
For 2000 years the Church has gone forth
like John the Baptist to bring hope to the world:
to proclaim not just the message, but the person of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, many have rejected that faith and that hope,
and placed their faith and hope in things of the world.
Sometimes this hope was in false gods or superstition.
Over the last few centuries more and more
have placed their hope in man himself
—especially in man’s reason
and his ability to solve to every problem.
This hope in man has been, in effect,
a quest to establish not the kingdom of heaven on earth,
but, what might be called a “kingdom of man.”
And it’s taken various forms over the years:
a belief in the purity of science as the solution of man’s problems,
or in political or economic structures
or a combination of two or all three of these.
The first major effort came in the French Revolution.
Then came the rise of Marxism, Communism, Socialism and Nazism.
And we’ve seen that each one of these has produced nothing
but more cruelty and misery,
from the Reign of terror in France, to Hitler’s War and Holocaust,
to Stalin’s gulags and murder of 10s of millions of his citizens.
We’ve seen the virtual political enslavement of 100 of millions of people
and the poverty and ruin wrought of failed Marxist economics.
The failure of the kingdom of man.
One key flaw in each of these “kingdoms”
was that they forgot that John told us to “repent”
—they forgot that man sins,
and this corrupts his work and every
institution and program he establishes.
A second related key flaw
was their common focus on “materialism”:
focusing primarily on the material needs and wants of man,
as if things like food, housing, and money
were the only things man desires and needs.
As important as these are,
they forgot that in reality, man desires and needs, first and above all,
to be loved, and to love completely and without end.
Give a man food, and it will give him hope, until he’s hungry tomorrow.
Give a man a job, and it gives him hope, until he loses that job,
or begins to fear losing it.
But give a man Christ and His love,
he can go to Him and hope in Him
today, tomorrow and always – and never be disappointed.
So is it any surprise that each of these “kingdoms of men”
only added to men’s misery,
and robbed them of the one thing that sustains us when all else fails:
Now, you may have noticed I’ve left off my list 2 modern “systems”
that are near and dear to most of us: American democracy and capitalism.
I’ve done so because
historically Americans have never tried to keep faith out of public life.
Unlike the French or Bolshevik revolutions
the American Revolution began with the declaration of belief
in “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”
and in the “self-evident” “truths”
“that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights.”
And it is an incontrovertible fact that almost all Americans at the time
believed that the name of “Nature’s God”, “their Creator,” was “Jesus.”
Now, I’m not making an argument for the role of religion in government;
I’m simply pointing out how faith in Jesus has affected
how the American people implemented democracy and capitalism.
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that it’s been America’s faith in Christ
that has kept American capitalism and democracy
from being overwhelmed by the materialism, and sin,
that has devastated other western nations.
Even so, to the extent Americans have placed their hope in man and not in God,
and placed material goods over spiritual or moral goods,
we’ve seen Americans and America
fall into the same trouble as other Western peoples.
Unfortunately, the reality is that this is becoming more the case everyday,
as fewer and fewer Americans place their trust in Jesus.
Sometimes this is in intentional but sort of obscure ways,
as our hearts and minds turn gradually in that direction.
Sometimes, though, it’s a little more obvious.
For example, more and more the mere mention of Christ
is often forbidden in public.
This time of year we see it most dramatically,
as Christmas manger scenes are banned or removed from public places,
and even the mention of anything Christian is forbidden:
Advent becomes “the Holiday season”
and Christmas Vacation becomes “Winter Break,”
and many treat the greeting “Merry Christmas” as an insult.
These are examples of obviously intentional efforts to
turns us from hope in Christ
to hope in man and materialism.
But often this comes in much less intentionally sinister ways.
For example, look at how Christmas is becoming
more and more about buying expensive gifts,
rather than focusing on the gift of Jesus Himself.
Now, giving gifts is a good and even necessary thing at Christmas.
But it becomes a problem when there’s more emphasis
on the gifts than on Christ.
When we shift from hoping in Christ to hoping in things,
from God to materialism.
Also, sometimes people, including lots of well meaning Christians,
say that the “season” should be “all about helping the poor.”
Now, again, that’s a great and necessary thing to do
—Christ was born in poverty,
and He came to proclaim the good news to the poor.
Even so, being financially generous to the financially poor at Christmas
is not, in itself, as some say, “the real meaning of Christmas.”
Once when St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked
why she and her sisters had come
to a country as wealthy as the United States,
“my friend, there are many forms of poverty.
Even the wealthy can be poor.”
To Christ, the poor person is anyone lacking in necessities,
and the most fundamental necessities in life are not material goods,
but love, and hope in that love.
So, if giving hope in Christ to others
is not first and foremost in our hearts and minds
as we give our Christmas gifts,
whether it’s giving expensive useless gifts to loved ones
or even giving necessary things to the materially poor
gift giving can become a form of materialism:
placing hope in things, not in God.
Which brings us back to today’s Gospel
and its message of hope to us this Advent.
Like the Jews listening to John the Baptist,
each of us is called to be filled with joyful hope
at the news of the coming of the Messiah.
But also, like John himself, each of is called to proclaim that news of hope,
like a voice crying out in the desert.
Whether it’s by the charity we show in our kindness and patience with strangers,
or the gifts we give to our friends or to the poor.
Or by the manger scenes we put in our living rooms or on our front lawns.
Or in the time we take to actually tell people
about the coming of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus.
Whether we tell them through the gift of a good Christian book,
or by sitting down and having a long heart to heart talk about Christ,
or by the simple but heartfelt and bold greeting “Merry Christmas.”
Advent is a time for hope—a time to renew our hope and to offer hope to others.
A time to remember that we are Saved by Hope
—hope in our savior Jesus Christ.