TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2019
2nd Sunday of Advent
December 8, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
This week as we continue to prepare for the Birth of a Baby,
I’m reminded of a song we sing
about the silent night on which that baby was born,
a song in which we sing “sleep in heavenly peace.”
There is no peace on earth like the heavenly peace
of that baby born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.
In today’s first reading we read about this peace that only this child can bring:
“the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
[and] a little child [will] guide them. …
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.”
This is the peace of Christ.
But some would ask, if Christ has come and redeemed the world,
why haven’t the prophecies of Isaiah been fulfilled:
in the world we live in, wolves and leopards still eat lambs and kids?
The answer is very simple: while Christ continually offers us His peace,
we continually reject it.
And I don’t mean rejecting peace in the sense of fighting to defend ourselves.
I mean the rejection of His peace, that we call “sin“.
Whether it’s the great and horrible sins that start wars,
or the small almost unnoticed sins of everyday life
—each sin is a rejection of the peace of Christ.
And because of sin, the final and perfect peace that Isaiah foretells
is the peace we can only hope for at the second coming,
when, as Isaiah says, the Messiah will come again in glory to
“judge the poor with justice, and … slay the wicked.”
All of us long for the peace of Christ, but all of us are also sinners.
We know that by our baptism we were born again “of water and the Spirit”,
becoming like little children in the family of God.
But we also know that since the time of our baptism we’ve sinned,
and so in some way, to a lesser or greater extent,
separated ourselves from Christ’s peace.
Today’s Gospel tells us about how St. John the Baptist
was baptizing in the river Jordan.
But it’s important to remember that the baptism of John
is not the same baptism that we celebrate as a Christian sacrament.
His baptism was just an external sign of repentance:
a popular adaptation of the Jewish purification rituals,
to show true sorrow and contrition for their sins.
But it didn’t forgive sins, and it wasn’t received only once,
as is the case with the sacrament of baptism:
it could and was repeated several times by the same people.
It sounds a lot like our sacrament of baptism
–but it also sounds a lot like another sacrament:
the sacrament of penance: a sacrament that can be repeated,
and that also involves an outward sign of contrition.
And the Gospel also says:
“[they] were being baptized by him …as they acknowledged their sins.”
It seems that there was some sort of a public confession of sins involved
–just like the sacrament of penance.
Besides this, John tells the repentant sinners that they had to,
“Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”
Sounds a lot like the penance that a priest gives a penitent to do
when they leave the confessional.
Of course, John’s baptism isn’t the sacrament of baptism or penance
–its not a sacrament at all,
because a sacrament isn’t just the external signs we see
–it also involves the action of Christ
working through the power of the Holy Spirit
to effect some real change in the person.
But John’s baptism is a foreshadowing of the sacraments
which Christ will establish: he says
“I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I
….[and] He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
It’s not an accident that the baptism of St. John
looks like both the sacraments of baptism and penance
–because these two sacraments are intimately related.
The innocence and peace received at baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit,
but lost by our sins, is returned to us in penance,
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The essential message of John the Baptist is:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It’s a message for sinners, because only sinners need to repent.
For sinners who are unwilling to take his warning and refuse to repent,
this message is bad news
because he says that when Christ comes again to judge,
they “will burn with unquenchable fire.”
But for sinners who are repentant, the message is Good News:
they can enter into the kingdom of peace.
So he when he calls the Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers!”
although he sounds harsh, he’s really offering them great hope.
Remember, a viper is a snake:
like the snake or serpent of the Book of Genesis
who tempted Adam and Eve to the original sin.
To be a “brood of vipers” is to be “sinners.”
But, another word for viper is “adder”
and the prophesy of Isaiah that we read today tells us that
“the child [shall] lay his hand on the adder’s lair.”
So we see that the child comes to lay his hand on the brood of vipers,
or on sinners.
The child we await, the child Jesus,
comes to forgive the sinners who want to repent.
But St. John also says
“…do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones
In the same way, we can’t presume that just because we’re Catholic,
or because we receive communion every Sunday or even every day,
or because we give to the poor or do other acts of charity,
we can never presume on Christ’s forgiveness.
We have to come to Christ,
through the priests who–as successors to the apostles’ work
–sacramentally stand in His place to forgive sins in His name
as He commanded them.
We must come to Him “acknowledging [our] sins”,
prepared to “Produce good fruit as evidence of [our] repentance”
and intending to continue to produce these good fruits
by changing our lives,
turning away from sin, and turning toward Christ.
Every year during Advent I hear hundreds of confessions.
There is no other time when I am more keenly aware
of the great gift of priesthood as when I hear confessions.
And it’s not an awareness that brings pride,
but one that brings a profound humility.
I’m humbled by the awesome power and love of Christ and His Holy Spirit
working through me to bring forgiveness and peace,
but I’m also tremendously humbled by the beautiful humility
of the repentant sinners
faithfully coming to Christ for His forgiveness.
Some are guilty of grave offenses,
and some seem to be truly saints with only the slightest imperfections,
but each shows the great humility of a child,
confidently asking for the peace
that only the one who is the child can give.
Have you been to confession yet this Advent?
Have you shown the humility of a child,
to prepare yourself for the coming of the child?
If not, why not?
Some might be afraid: maybe it’s been a long time…maybe even years.
So what? The priest isn’t’ there to hurt you or to ridicule you:
most priests I know are just so glad
when someone comes back after a long time,
as long as they’re sincere,
that the toughest confessor becomes a pussycat.
Some might think they have too many sins, or some sin that’s so terrible
that either God or the priest won’t forgive them.
But there’s no sin that can’t be forgive
except the sin that isn’t confessed and repented.
But look at the great sinner in the New Testament, Mary Magdalene:
—who had committed all 7 deadly sins, every sin in the book—
not only did Jesus forgive her, but He loved her so much
He gave her the gift of being the first witness of the resurrection.
Some on the other hand might think they don’t have enough sins:
“Father, I’m a pretty good guy.”
Well maybe so, but if you think you’re that great why don’t you ask a friend who knows you really well, to help you figure out some sins to confess;
and if that doesn’t work, ask an enemy,
I’m sure they’ll tell you something you could improve about yourself.
All of us have something to confess,
something that keeps us from moving closer to Christ:
we just have to humble enough to recognize it.
No preparation for the coming of the child Jesus or the coming of His kingdom
can have any meaning until we acknowledge that He is coming
because of our absolute need for Him to bring us into His kingdom.
While we all long for the peace of the kingdom that John the Baptist proclaims,
we will never enter into that kingdom or enjoy any of that peace
so long as we allow sin—whether great or small
–to come between us and Christ.
As we go forward in Advent, let us take advantage of the good news
proclaimed by St. John in today’s gospel,
the words of great hope to all sinners, like you and like me:
“Repent, for the kingdom is at hand.”
And may the Christ child whom we await,
and who waits for us even now,
lay His hand upon us and bring us His peace.