Second Sunday of Advent Cycle A
Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12
I was at a meeting a few weeks ago of the new men’s ministry group that we are starting here at Saint James. We call it the Men of Saint Joseph in honor of that great saint who is the role model for men trying to live a Christian vocation while married and raising children. We were starting the meeting off with a prayer and, being the week after All Souls Day, we prayed for the souls in purgatory. After the prayer, one of the men, a member of the Horry County Sheriff’s Department, joked that he could use all the prayers he could get, and please don’t wait until he died to start doing it. I told him that that he needn’t worry – when we get to heaven, it would be the results of our lives that would matter the most, and he had a leg up on the rest of us. For instance, when I give a homily, people just start sleeping, but when he pulls out his badge, people start praying. He brings people closer to God in an immediate way than most of us could ever hope.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. The color for this season is purple, the same color that we’ll use for Lent in a few months. And while most do not, some churches use slightly different shades of purple for the two seasons so as to highlight the difference, maybe subtle, but the definite difference in the two seasons. Lent leads up to the suffering of Good Friday and the glorious salvation won on Easter, and so it is a time of atonement, during which we share in a small way with the sufferings of Christ and attempt penance for our sins. Advent, on the other hand, is a time of anticipation and preparation, a remembrance of the wait of Israel for the Messiah and a reminder to us as we await that Messiah’s return. We should still atone for our shortcomings – that is part of any good preparation for putting our lives in order. But we should also reflect on the gifts that God has given us, the greatest of which is the coming to Earth of a Savior, the incarnation, God made flesh, and let that drive us to reflect on our lives and the direction they are going.
Saint Augustine reflected on this Gospel reading in a sermon. He noted that we will hear twice again a variation on the first line we heard today from Matthew spoken by John the Baptist: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" [Matthew 3:2 NABRE]. Jesus himself says it one chapter later when he is beginning his ministry. Matthew writes: “From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” [4:17 NABRE]. Then Augustine reminds us that Jesus says it again in a slightly different way towards the end of his ministry to the Pharisees asking about when the kingdom would come. Christ tells them: “the Kingdom of God is within you” [Luke 17:21 LB].
The kingdom of God is at hand, and the kingdom of God is within you. This is a great starting point for our journey through Advent. How do we find the kingdom of God within ourselves? We can wait for the moral equivalent of a deputy sheriff flashing a badge at us, which is to say the fear of death or temporal punishment for our failures in life. Or we can use this time set aside by the Church to pray and reflect on how we can become better disciples, and better live up to our prayer we'll say in just a few minutes that “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” When we say this, we are telling all those around us, God, and most importantly ourselves that we commit to doing this. The time to change is always now, although we humans can always find reasons to procrastinate. Postponement of what we know we should do is not just shirking of our Christian duty, but leads to insincerity, a gap between our professed faith and our actual actions. It is the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Gospel coming to the Baptist not to repent but to find out how to deal with this prophet that they didn’t agree with, and whose message they wished to repudiate.
We at Saint James have some opportunities to prepare ourselves this Christmas season, to renew our faith with sincerity of heart. The parish is welcoming Father Joly next weekend, and he will be here to lead us in an Advent mission Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and we cap this off with a Penance Service on Wednesday evening. In addition, there are numerous other opportunities, such as the ecumenical Monday luncheon services and numerous volunteer opportunities here at Saint James, Catholic Charities, and other places, as well as more festive events such as the Hanging of the Greens and our own parish Christmas party next weekend. There are plenty of ways to put Christ back in Christmas, but we must make the first step to say yes to being active in his Church, to find the kingdom within ourselves, to bring it to those around us. We do this not because we are forced by some inner guilt or a scare in our lives but because we are drawn by our faith to enter a deeper relationship with our Savior.
As we continue with our Mass, may the Eucharistic sacrament revive in us a desire to bring the kingdom of God to our own kingdom here on earth. Let us respond to the Baptist’s call to make our paths straight and prepare a place for the Lord in our hearts. May our Advent preparation prepare a worthy place in our souls for Christ to be born in us anew.