Fr. Charles Irvin
2nd Advent [A] 2010
Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12
A gift can only be received, fully received, according to what is in the heart and soul of the one who receives it. That being so, we hear today John the Baptist preaching a message that asks us to prepare, to prepare to receive the gift that God wants to give us. John wasn’t so interested in assigning blame and finger-pointing at the moral bankruptcy of the Pharisees and Sadducees as he was in touching those who were listening to him with sincere hearts, hearts fully aware of what human sin can do but likewise fully aware of God’s merciful promise of a Savior who would, through our own conversion to His ways, deliver us from the power of evil. John wanted us to convert and with expectant faith to receive God’s gift to us.
If we give any attention at all to human history we can’t help but realize that our humanity is weakened by our lusts for power, money, and sexual exploitation of others, even children. Vice abounds. Is that God’s fault or ours? Some blame God for everything that has gone wrong both in their own lives as well as in our human history. But, we must ask, did God create us to live in misery?
The Book of Genesis gives us a different picture, a picture in which God created us to live in happiness, His creative purpose symbolized by the Garden of Paradise. God’s primal intention was that we live in love, peace, and harmony… harmony with our world and harmony in our human relationships with others. It goes on to present us with all that has gone wrong. And what has gone wrong? Our desires to decide for ourselves what is good and evil, what is right for us and what is wrong for us. We decide for ourselves, apart from what God wants. That lust for power is found in our DNA coding, in our blood, in our now weakened human spirit.
It’s important to bear in mind that sin has weakened us, sickened our souls, and diminished our love, both our love of God and our love for one another. That condition is known in theology as “Original Sin,” our sinful rebellion that is in our origins. We are born into human history and bear its weakness, a weakness so inherent in us that we cannot save ourselves. This offends our human pride. This bruises our egotistical belief that we can justify ourselves, save ourselves, make ourselves whole again. The truth is that only God can save us, only God can justify us, only God can restore us to wholeness – holiness. The only way up and out of the quicksand in which we find ourselves thrashing about is to reach up and take a hold of God’s hand, God’s saving presence that comes to us in His Christ, the One who stands on solid ground, on rock, the One who offers us His healing strength in His Anointed One, Christ our Lord. He offers… nothing happens unless we respond.
It is not the will of God to allow evil to triumph over us. God’s will is just the reverse. Evil has no more power over us other than what we allow it to have. Evil has no power over us when God’s love in His Christ abides within us. God has limited evil’s reach. Satan’s power is not limitless, it is limited, and more than limited it is negated when we choose not to eat of the tainted fruit from the tree that stands in the middle our world.
It is all too true that evil abounds in our world. We know of our concentration camps, oppressive political regimes, dictators, brutality, sexual predators, religious fanatics, and other agents of the Evil One. Totalitarianism in the forms of Nazism, Communism, unrestrained acquisition of money and power, and religious persecution have beset us in recent centuries. They all have parentage found in earlier human history. All of these evils crucified Christ; all of these evils continue to crucify Him as He lives now within us in His Mystical Body. Nailing others continues to nail Christ to His Cross.
What John the Baptist calls us to see is that religious persecution and systemic evils, as symbolized in the Pharisees and Sadducees, will beset us so long as we fail to recognize Christ our Savior living now among us. We need to recognize that Jesus Christ didn’t come among us 2,000 years ago and then leave. No. God would not play that dirty trick on us. We need to see that God sent His Son among us to abide with us, not only among us but live within us. With Him we can overcome what our Original Sin has done to us.
The path out of our mess is the path of personal repentance and conversion, a conversion in which we change our ways. These prepare the way for us to receive God’s Christ, God’s gift to us. Repentance isn’t simply saying: “I’m sorry” and then moving on as if nothing has changed.
Repentance involves recognition, becoming aware of our sins, something quite beyond simply feeling bad about what we have done. Nice sentiments are not the stuff of repentance. To be sure God offers us His forgiveness, but nothing happens until we respond, respond with changed patterns of behavior. That is true repentance.
You have all, I am sure, heard the Twelve Steps set forward in the recovery program offered by Alcoholics Anonymous. Permit me here to substitute the word “sin” for the word “alcohol” found in just the first three of those twelve steps.
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.
Recovery is hard work, you can’t just talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. That is what John the Baptist is telling us.
The wonderful thing about Advent is that at the end we are given the certitude of God’s loving presence in our lives, God’s Holy Spirit abiding deep within our hearts and souls. Advent is all about expectant faith and hope found in the Gift of God who loved us so much that He sent us His very best… His only Son. And if we receive Him in our hearts and souls, receive Him not simply with good wishes and nice thoughts, then the changes that we enter into will take us out of our weakness and into the certainty of God’s love abiding deep within us empowering us to deal with our wounded selves and enjoy life as He would have us enjoy it.
He is our savior; we are powerless to be our own savior — and that is good news!
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