Friday, December 13, 2013

Homily: The Third Sunday of Advent: 2013 Updated

   Go and tell John what you hear and see

The worst thing about the pre-Christmas rush is not the frantic shopping, the crowded stores, or the traffic jams but the absurd expectations that are raised. The most perfect Christmas ever! The best Christmas gift ever! The Biggest Christmas ever! The largest Christmas tree ever! The most elaborate lights and decorations. People are set up to be disappointed.

We might imagine that we Christians, who know the real meaning of Christmas, who know that Christmas is not about Nelson Mandela but about Jesus, are immune to such disappointments. But the Gospel this Sunday tells us that this is not so.

One week, just last week, John the Baptist, was drawing a crowd, “Jerusalem and all Judea” – but now he is in prison and he is about to lose his head. He is at the point,  ‘where the rubber hits the road’. It is one thing to say, when everyone is hanging on your every word, that Jesus is the one who ‘ is coming after me and is mightier than I.’ But in prison things look a little different.

But John the Baptist’s doubts are not those of a skeptic, an unbeliever but the doubts of one who believes that Jesus is the one but is confused and frustrated by him. He stands at the beginning of a long line stretching from the Apostles all the way to you and me, who believe in Jesus but cannot get him to meet our expectations.

Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?

Not only is this a question which the followers of Jesus have always asked but also the answer that Jesus gives to John is the same answer he gives to you and me.

First of all Jesus says to John, just like a Dallas Baptist might say,  “Read the Bible.” He quotes from the Old Testament Reading today, from the Prophet Isaiah:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.

That is what will happen when the Messiah comes, when the one, who is to come, comes.

But it is not just what Baptists say: a friend of mine who converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church told me about the first time he went to an Orthodox priest for confession: before my friend could confess a single sin the priest said “do you read the Bible every day?” My friend said “I try to.” The priest said “Don't  just try . Do it” and then gave him absolution.

I should say that around here you won’t get off quite so easy, when you come to confession but it’s a good question “Do you all read the Bible every day?” St. Jerome who went to a lot of trouble to translate the Bible into the language of the people did so because, as he said "ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." It  is absolutely necessary to immerse ourselves in the Bible  because it is all, every last bit of it is about Jesus and, even if it will not answer every question you might have about him, it will teach  you understand what you have to know about Jesus

Disappointments, prison, sickness, setbacks, failure, distress, even death—these are not big surprises for followers of Jesus, who have read the bestseller about him.

            Go and tell John what you hear and see

“Don’t think but look”. The philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, with this advice, was trying to get people to consider things as they are and not as we think they should be or as we are used to them. Not only do you need to read the Bible but you need to also look around at and see that that the Holy Scriptures are being fulfilled at every turn.

the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

These things are happening all the time, physically and spiritually, the blind are seeing, the lame are walking, the deaf are hearing, the dead raised. Look and you will see.

But the really amazing thing is that Jesus says to John ‘you, John, you are the best evidence that I am the one who is to come.”

What are your expectations?Jesus asks crowds who flocked to see John:

What did you go out into the wilderness to behold?

A reed shaken by the wind?

Why then did you go out?

To see a man clothed in soft raiment?

Why then did you go out?

To see a prophet?

Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

This is he of whom it is written, `Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.'

But as amazing as that is, Jesus says something even more astonishing, that we, you and me, are even better evidence than John.

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Fr. Ronald Knox once described St. John the Baptist as ‘a penniless child with his nose pressed against the window of the candy store.’ But that is not you and me, as little as are, we are still members of the Kingdom of Christ.

Oh, We all  know how far we all have to go. How many sins and temptations beset us. We know how easy it is to get it wrong. But we are still better off than John the Baptist. We have the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, by which we are buried with Christ that we might rise with him; our Food is His Body and Blood, by which we have Life in us; we have that sacramental flood which flows out of the side of the Crucified Lord, healing, mercy, forgiveness flowing from the Sacred Heart; we have the prayers of Mary and all the Angels and Saints and over  two thousand years of witnesses to the transforming power of God’s grace.

And yet we  still  are tempted to look for another, for something else, something bigger and better to put under the Christmas tree. But for God's sake and your own sake: Hear,see,go, tell.

   Go and tell John what you hear and see

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