2nd Advent [A] 2004

Fr. Charles Irvin

Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12

The only thing in life that is constant is change. The only certitudes in life are the uncertainties brought about by change.

Change is hard on everyone… and change is very difficult for everyone. Who or what guarantees that things will be better as a result of change?

Example abound. Consider the changes faced in puberty. Emotions run riot, particularly the emotion of fear. Can you think of anyone who is more ruled by fear, anyone who is more uncertain, than a young boy or girl going through the changes brought about by puberty?

Consider marriage. It takes a lot of faith and a lot of courage to enter into marriage. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why so many young people either will not marry or will do so only later when they’re in their late twenties or early thirties.

Graduating from school and entering into one’s first job is another example. Leaving a job and taking another in a distant city is another. Discovering that one has cancer is yet another. So is learning that one has a fatal illness. All of these changes constantly face us. The only certitudes we have are the incertitudes we face on the other side of all these changes.

We find ourselves today in the midst of our preparations for Christmas – buying gifts and planning for the family reunions and parties with friends, Christmas songs and music are playing in the background in our days before Christmas. In the midst of all this we find ourselves in today’s Mass being confronted by John the Baptist’s stark and insistent calls for us to repent, to change our lives, to change the ways we do things.

It’s all quite upsetting, perhaps so much so that we deftly set aside serious considerations of what we need to change in our lives. We listen politely to what John the Baptist is telling us, and then when we leave here we’ll set ourselves to the busyness of getting ready for Christmas celebrations. Change? Maybe later one.

But let’s get serious now. Let’s take a look at sin in our lives.

Isn’t it curious that when sin is mentioned you and I immediately look for examples of sin in other people’s lives and then we tell ourselves that we’re not like those other people – adulterers, fornicators, corporate executives who rob others of their savings, Hollywood seducers and perverts, and nasty relatives who make the lives of others so miserable.

Sin is the perversion of what is good; the corruption of what is beautiful. What is sinful always presents itself to us as something that is good. Few of us ever do something that is obviously and purposefully evil. We never deliberately hurt others… well, most of the time, that is.

Take beautiful and mysterious gift of human sexuality, for instance. It has become an industry; it is used by the advertising and entertainment industries; it is employed to turn women into useful sex objects; it moves into exploiting children; it corrupts men.

Sin takes the best of our scientific discoveries and then deviously turns them into useful instruments of war. Sin takes our decent desires to have a business or enter into a profession and then corrupts those efforts into taking advantage of others and exploiting them. Sin takes our legitimate desire to have self-respect and turns it into an aggressive and hurtful self-assertion over and against those around us, with the result that our homes become war zones in which egos battle against each other.

Notice that most people who are all about such things do not consider what they are doing to be sinful. Many of those folks don’t even know what sin is; they’re dumbfounded when they’re told that they’re being sinful. Sin is a word that no longer is found in their dictionaries. They simply no longer know what sin is.

John the Baptist speaks of repenting. Well… how can one repent if one is not aware of his or her sins? And what does repentance mean for them? Many people, if fear… too many people… think that repentance is simply saying “I’m sorry.” But repentance is not simply feeling bad about what one has done. It’s not a mere sentiment. True repentance is something far deeper than simple sentimentality. True repentance calls for change.

If you’re driving somewhere and fail to make a proper turn you can’t say “oops!” and go on driving in the same direction. No, of course not! You’ve got to turn; you have to make a change in direction. You’ve got to make the change. Repentance is all about that. It goes far beyond recognizing that you’re going in the wrong direction… far beyond feeling sorry that you’ve make a mistake. Repentance demands change, no matter how much we may dislike making the needed change.

Advent has something else to offer us. Advent has a Savior for us. Beyond our own efforts to recognize sin in our own lives, beyond our honest confessions and admissions that lead us to repent, Advent presents us with what we truly need – a Savior. For if we’re honest with ourselves we will admit that we can’t deal with sin, repentance and conversion all on our own. We won’t change all by ourselves. We need a Higher Power. 

And so I’ll leave you this morning with the first three steps of the famous Twelve Steps found in Alcoholics Anonymous. Of all of the Twelve Steps the first three are the most vital. They deal with what John the Baptist is talking about.

Permit me to substitute the word “sin” for the word “alcohol” found in those Twelve Steps, the first three of which tell us:

1 – We admitted we were powerless over sin – that our lives had become unmanageable.

2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

As I said that the beginning of this homily, the only thing in life that is constant is change. The only certitudes in life are the uncertainties brought about by change.

Change is hard on everyone… and change is very difficult for everyone. Who or what guarantees that things will be better as a result of change?

The wonderful thing about Advent is that at the end we a given the certitude of God’s presence in our lives, God’s presence deep within our hearts and souls. Advent is all about our expectant faith in the God who loves us enough to send us His very best… His only Son. And if we receive Him in our hearts and souls, deep down within and not simply with good wishes and nice thoughts, then the changes that we enter into will take us out of incertitude and into the certainty of God’s love abiding deep within us to empower us to deal with our selves and with life as He would have us.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”