Homily – December 2021


 Readings  Bar 5:1-9  Phil 1:3-6, 8-11  Gospel Luke 3: 1-6

From the Gospel that we have just proclaimed, we know immediately it is from St Luke.

This is because one of the main characteristics of St Luke’s Gospel is his attention to historical detail. We find his linking together “Salvation history” with what was happening in secular history widespread throughout his Gospel.

So, in his introduction to the entry of St John the Baptist at the beginning of today’s Gospel we have, extraordinarily, six brief references to historical details of the time.

Why? This is like a drum roll! He is trying to emphasise that something or someone of enormous significance is about to enter the Gospel.

The enormous significance given by St Luke, in this case, is to St John the Baptist. St John the Baptist has always been known as the prophet of Hope, preparing a way for the Lord.

“Hope” is a word of four letters. I wish to make, therefore, four comments about the significance of St John the Baptist in this Advent Season. The first letter of the word “Hope” is “H.”

“H” is for “Hinge.” St John the Baptist is like the hinge between the Old Testament and the New Testament.   He prepares the path for the Lord for us all.

This came to my mind just in recent days when I decided to go for a walk in the Jerrabomberra Wetlands. I hadn’t been on this particular walk for about a month. Surely, there are some concrete paths, but there are also some lovely little dirt paths that wind themselves around the creek.

I was reluctant to take this walk onto the dirt paths as, after the last month as you know, we have had above average rainfall. Everywhere you go the grass is growing so quickly. I was apprehensive of going along the smaller tracks fearing that they might also accommodate snakes. However, to my surprise, the curators for the wetlands had kindly mowed the path to the left and to the right. The grass was well cut and there was no danger involved in walking along the track.

I feel St John the Baptist is rather like this. On our plenary journey towards Salvation with Jesus, St John the Baptist has gone before us preparing the way by his call for Conversion and Repentance. He has brought all the foreshadowing and promises of the Old Testament into the New Testament and seen them climaxed in the coming of Jesus Christ, our Emmanuel.

In the Gospel today we hear that he, rather like the wetlands, proclaimed that the “winding ways will be straightened and rough roads made smooth!” It is then proclaimed that all will see “the salvation of God.” Through “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” we make room for the gift, Salvation of God made present in Jesus Christ.

Secondly, the second letter in the word “Hope” is “O.” “O” is for open to the Holy Spirit.

Even before Pentecost, St John the Baptist was completely open to announcing that the age of the Holy Spirit would come with the Messiah. This is a cause for great joy. In the First Reading from the Book of Baruch it is prophesied that we are to “turn your eyes to the east” as we await the dawning of the coming of the Lord. With the fulfilment of the promise of God, there is a call, “Arise, Jerusalem.”

The coming of the age of the Holy Spirit is alluded to in the Second Reading from the Philippians. One of the characteristics of God’s life in us is that, “your love for each other may increase more and more.”

How could it be that St John the Baptist is foreshadowing the coming of the age of the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ before Pentecost?

It is almost as if St John the Baptist has had a kind of “Pentecost” of his own that pre-shadows life after the Resurrection of Jesus.

This seems to be hinted at in the Visitation. Here Mary and Elizabeth, meet as cousins and share the praises of God together. Jesus is in the womb of Mary and John the Baptist is in the womb of Elizabeth. Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, remarks to Mary that as soon as the pregnant Mary arrived “the child leapt within my womb.” This leaping is a type of “Pentecost in-utero.” It is a kind of “Personal Pentecost” anticipating the full life of Christ mentioned in St Pauls Letter to the Philippians.

Thirdly, the third letter in the word “Hope” is “P.” “P” is for prepare to be vulnerable like Jesus on the Cross.

St John the Baptist decided to detach himself from all earthly comforts and to attach himself radically to God “in the wilderness.” The wilderness is a sign of total detachment to all excess. We know that St John the Baptist, from the other Gospels, lived in a very frugal manner. We hear of his diet of honey and wild locusts, and that he wore Camel skins and seemed almost like a wild man in the wilderness.

Then later, we hear that his attachment to the coming of the Saviour made him make all sorts of prophetic denunciations of those who live life as if God did not exist. This caused him to be imprisoned in the latter part of his life for a considerable period of time. We then hear, in a bizarre situation, how he was finally martyred by beheading.

He gives us all a great example of imitating Jesus’ vulnerability on the Cross as the way to Holiness. Especially as this Christmas period arrives let us focus on this matter in a very practical way.

Finally the word “Hope” concludes with the letter “E.” “E” stands for easing himself out of the spotlight.

St John the Baptist will always be understood as the great “pointer” of others to Jesus.

We hear in chapter 22 of the Book of Genesis how Abraham and Isaac were called upon to make sacrifice to God, after the Angel stopped Abraham from using Isaac as the “lamb victim.”

Isaac’s question to his father was, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

This question was definitively answered 2,000 years later by St John the Baptist. In deflecting his popularity from the crowds he pointed out Jesus and said in answer to Isaacs’s question, “There is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

So we even thank St John the Baptist for the important prayer that we pray in every Mass prior to Holy Communion. St John the Baptist always points not to himself but to others. He himself said that he must “decrease” and that Jesus must “increase” in him.

His mission was “submission.” In other words he took on anticipating Jesus’ Mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God to all. He did this by being totally in submission to all that God was to announce in His public Ministry.

So, as we go on with the Mass now, perhaps our “Gospill” for today could be the St John the Baptist prayer. In this second Sunday of Advent as we approach Christmas may “we decrease and Jesus in us, increase.”

12 DECEMBER 2021

 Readings  Zep 3:14-18  Phil 4:4-7  Gospel Luke 3: 10-18

 Today is called “Gaudete Sunday” – Rejoice Sunday!

Last week we focused on the person of St John the Baptist in the Gospel and in today’s Gospel we focus on the message of St John the Baptist.

In regard to St John’s basic message, there seems to be two Baptisms at play here in today’s Gospel.

First of all there is the Baptism of St John the Baptist – by water and repentance. In response to the question that the people ask John, “What must we do?” he answers three groups of people by stressing the social implications of the Baptism. There is to be genuine and practical concern for the “other”, especially the most vulnerable. The three groups of people include, “all the people”, the tax collectors and soldiers. Here St John stresses with them a radical sharing and honesty in living out their Baptism of Repentance. There is to be honesty, no extortion and no intimidation.

Then in the Gospel there is the introduction to the Baptism of Jesus by the “Holy Spirit and fire.” It is St John the Baptist himself who makes a key difference between his Ministry and that of Jesus. Clearly, St John the Baptist sees himself as simply foreshadowing the Ministry of Jesus. This is a cause of great joy and hope. Hence the Readings stress “Gaudete” – Rejoice!

In this light, we see the First Reading from the prophet Zephaniah where he calls on the people to “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart…” In this passage there is the delightful image that even God Himself will rejoice in the coming of His Son as a Victorious Warrior. God “will dance with shouts of joy for you as on the day of festival.” What a marvellous image!

As a result the exultation of Philippians makes eminent sense.   Living in Christ’s Baptism means a changed life. There can be no more hopelessness but only hopefulness. St Paul in the Second Reading calls on the people to “be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness.”

Immediately St John the Baptist separates himself from the Ministry of Jesus. This is because there was “a feeling of expectancy” among the people who were beginning to think that perhaps “John might be the Christ.”

St John the Baptist therefore declares that “I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals.” To do so was, even by the slaves at the time, seen to be a menial task. St John the Baptist feels that he is not even worthy of that in regard to the Ministry that Jesus is bringing.

Recently, I was in Sydney for the Episcopal Ordination of the new Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney. Once I left the Airport I went down to the underground railway line. I needed to wait for some minutes before the train arrived. There was a feeling of hope that indeed a train would come eventually. Once the announcement was made that the train was about to arrive and we could feel the pushing out of air of the train in the tunnel, people were readying and making sure that they were prepared to move onto the train. When the train came, people responded accordingly.

I suppose that is a little like the difference between “Advent time” and “Christmas time.” The “Advent time” is a time of preparation, through Repentance and Conversion, for the presence of the Lord of who we await in joyful hope. The Kingdom of God comes like a train and we are to get on-board with the program that Jesus has offered us in the Kingdom of God.

Whilst we are talking about two different types of Baptism, we could also reflect for a moment on two different types of Christians.

Maybe we could say that there are, “Advent Christians” and “Christmas Christians.”

In regard to “Advent Christians”, look at the crib at the moment in front of the Altar. All the key players are there except the main one! The Baby Jesus is not there and there is just an empty manger. We know, that like the train coming into the station, in just a few weeks with Christmas the Lord will make His presence felt afresh amongst us.

However, we do meet Christians who forever talk about the Church as if Jesus was not present. They seem to be obsessed with the structures of the Church and the performance of the Church but rarely do we hear the name of Jesus on their lips. They seem to be stuck in a permanent Advent. Let us recall the words of St Paul in 2 Corinthians when he talks about how “we hold a treasure in earthenware vessels.” Let’s not just look at the earthenware vessels but focus on the treasure.

In regard to “Christmas Christians,” this is where Jesus is placed in the crib.   We live in the Church were Jesus is the very centre in the midst of our fragility and mess, particularly as Christmas approaches. Let us live that type of Christianity, in the dynamic form, of opening ourselves to the Lord and His surprises in the midst of our messy preparations for Christmas.

I leave you now with a little “Gospill” to remember, it is simply this, “Let us rejoice in becoming Christmas Christians and not simply Advent Christians.”

19 DECEMBER 2021

 Readings  Mi 5:1-4  Heb 10:5-10  Gospel Luke 1: 39-45

 On the fourth Sunday of Advent the Readings change perspective as we move towards the Christmas Mysteries of our Faith.

Over the last few weeks we have been looking at Jesus from the eyes of St John the Baptist. Today we are looking at the coming of the Lord from the eyes of Mary, the Mother of God. This is especially a feature of St Luke’s Gospel which is sometimes described as the “Marian Gospel.”

This perspective is greatly assisted by the words of Elizabeth at the end of today’s Gospel which I believe is a great definition of faith.

Recall, there a two Annunciations in St Luke’s Gospel. First there is the Annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel. There is also the Annunciation to Zechariah the father of St John the Baptise. St Luke uses these as a contrast. Whereas Zachariah’s response to the Angel is somewhat piecemeal, this is contrasted with Mary’s immediate and total response to all that God wants.

However, we are greatly blessed by the definition of faith given by Elizabeth when she greets her cousin Mary in the Visitation scene of today’s Gospel. She says, “Blessed is she that believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

So much of our lives are between promise and fulfilment. Faith is when we truly believe that God is with us even when we do not feel His presence. We recall that Jesus’ last words before the Ascension are, “I am with you till the end of time.” Even at Christmas time the favoured reference to the coming the Saviour is the name “Immanuel” which means “God is with us.” Mary believes this totally and completely.

From this faith comes the great wonders of Christmas.

We have heard of the seven great wonders of the world but we could say there are at least three great wonders of faith lived out in today’s Gospel.

First of all, there is the great encounter of Mary with her aged cousin Elizabeth. Once again it is Elizabeth indicating to us the wonder of Mary’s faith when she says, “Why should I be honoured by a visit from the mother of my Lord?” Already Elizabeth is acknowledging that Mary carries, not just the Prophet of a great miracle worker but, the Son of God. She describes her as the “mother of my Lord.” It took the Church a number of centuries to be able to definitively define Mary as “Theotokos”, which means “Mother of God.” This is the great wonder that God has become one in our human flesh.

The second wonder is of a more geographical nature. It is that Immanuel was born in Bethlehem.

Even in the First Reading we hear that Bethlehem was never seen as a city of great significance. From the prophet Micah we hear, “You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel….The Remnant.” So here Bethlehem is described as the “Least” and the “Remnant.” The wonder of it all is that the Lord does choose the least and the lowly and shuns the proud and wise in the sense of worldly wisdom.

The only great significance of Bethlehem in Judaism is that it was the home town of David. Now we find that the “New David,” Jesus Christ, is born in this town giving it a wonderful profile. The great revelation is that God chooses the unlikely to confound the wise.

The third great wonder of faith is that there are hints in the Scriptures today that Christmas is linked with the Eucharist.

In the First Reading the prophet states that the coming Messiah will “feed his flock with the power of the Lord.” This is also hinted at in the Second Reading from Hebrews. Here we find that God “prepared a body for me…by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.” Here the body is not something just to be admired and placed in a Museum but here is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” These are terminologies used in the Eucharist. There is the link that Christmas becomes food for the journey of the Christians life. Even the word “Bethlehem” suggests this. “Bethlehem” is a word that means “House of bread.”

So as we move on with the Mass now in the days just before Christmas, may we all acknowledge the importance of our faith and ask God to increase it. Let our “Gospill” for this day be the definitive words of Elizabeth in regard to faith, “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”