ADVENT RECONCILIATION HOMILY 2023
JOHN THE BAPTIST AND ISAIAH GET YET ANOTHER GO, WITH DOWN TO EARTH PRACTICAL ADVICE
Lk 3.7,10-16 Is 11.1-6
Well, here we are again, sinners all in together, here to reflect on our lives and how well we are living out our faith, as we prepare the way of the Lord during another Advent season, short as it is this year! As I’ve said before, there’s no need to beat ourselves up about how sinful we are or have been. The fact remains that we are all here because we are doing our best to persevere as faithful followers of Jesus, despite our shortcomings, which will never disappear totally, no matter how hard we try! They’re part of who we are, and the challenge is to recognize, accept and deal with them, as we respond to God’s mercy and grace, which is not automatic, in terms of predetermining our future behaviour. That’s up to you and me, as we keep plodding along the paths of our lives, and doing our best to stay on track, at least most of the time, using our God-given free will and consciences to keep us in line, more or less.
And, of course, sometimes we wobble off the track and need a bit of redirection in getting back on course. What strikes me is when people keep coming back and repeating past sins, which they have confessed earlier. It seems some still don’t seem to believe in a God of mercy and compassion, as revealed in Jesus, forgiveness granted once and for all, such that there’s no need to repeat sins over and over, often stated as ‘the sins of my past life’! I reckon we have enough to deal with, acknowledging the sins of our present lives, and resolving to deal with those issues, rather than dwell on our past. I think most of us today would accept that reality, as it has been hammered into us since Vatican II, in particular. Now we are looking at ourselves in a reflective way, thinking about how we might do better in all ways, not just the minutiae of our personal weaknesses, which can weigh us down at times.
John the Baptist here in Luke’s Gospel, after we’ve had Mark and John over the last 2 weekends, is quite down-to-earth, in giving practical advice to those seeking to improve themselves. It’s basic stuff, looking after the lonely, the lost, the alienated, the needy in general, be it material or spiritual. Be just in our dealings with others, and give all a fair go. I’m not sure about the wages bit, as income for our families’ needs, to keep up with inflation, but I guess they didn’t have a CPI or GNP back then, and trade was often largely by barter! But we might interpret him as saying “fair’s fair”, so to be fair in our dealings with others. In essence, his message is a warning against greed and a call to humility, as he himself expresses, in preparing the way for the greater one in Jesus.
And Isaiah is beating his drum again, they say between 740BC and 686BC, as he does right through Advent, looking in hope to a better future, if only his hearers would open their hearts and minds to his message of warning and promise, that things would be better overall, if the people listened to him and responded in action by living better lives of faith in their God of compassion and love. Wouldn’t we wish for that in a world at present divided by misunderstanding, hatred and strife, particularly at the present time, in the Holy Land and elsewhere?
The prophet provides the lovely imagery of peace and tranquillity, where he suggests: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” Then the passage continues: “The cow and the bear make friends; their young lie down together. The lion eats straw like the ox. The infant plays over the cobra’s hole; into the viper’s lair, the young child puts his hand (neither to be recommended!). They do no hurt, no harm, on all, my holy mountain.” (Is 11.5-10). Now this is hardly practical, but rather metaphorical imagery about the need to work for peace in a complex, and sometimes dark, world. Elsewhere, Isaiah talks of how: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Is 2.4), hoping for peace in a troubled world,
Wikipedia states its meaning: “In which military weapons or technologies are converted for peaceful civilian applications”. Ironically, the sculpture was gifted to the United Nations by USSR on 4th December 1959, just 3 years before the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, now sitting outside the UN building in New York City. And Jesus himself says: “All who take up the sword will perish by the sword” (Mt 26.52). Nevertheless, despite all the cries for peace, here we are in a world still fraught by conflict and violence, and an obscene amount spent on armaments, rather than addressing human poverty and inequality, and protecting the environment.
St Francis was one of the greatest and earliest environmentalists, patron saint of those who care for plants and animals. The Prayer in his name, allegedly composed by him some time early after 1200AD, conveys similar sentiments, which we could do well to reflect upon, and apply the spirit and principles to our own lives. So, I conclude with its powerful words, containing practical advice for you and me, as to how we should try to continue to live the Gospel:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt true faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, ever joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned and it is in dying that we’re born to eternal life.”
So we move forward in admitting our faults and failings, our shortfalls and omissions, as we strive to apply these principles in our day-to-day lives, seeking forgiveness for when we fall short, which is why we gather here and now, together, in faith and in a penitential spirit, seeking our loving and compassionate God’s forgiveness, for our own peace of mind, and so, personal and spiritual growth, hopefully leading us all to journey on as people of hope.
john Hannon 20th December 2023
Isaiah 11:1- 6 [The Branch from Jesse]
‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord, and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
The Word of the Lord.
Responsorial Psalm (Sung)
‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’
Luke 3:7, 10-16 [The preaching of John the Baptist]
Crowds of people came out to John to be baptized by him. The people asked him, “What are we to do, then?” He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it.” Some tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what are we to do?” “Don’t collect more than is legal,” he told them.
Some soldiers also asked him, “What about us? What are we to do?” He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely. Be content with your pay.” People’s hopes began to rise, and they began to wonder whether John perhaps might be the Messiah.
So John said to all of them, “I baptize you with water, but someone is coming who is much greater than I am. I am not good enough even to untie his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”.
The Gospel of the Lord.