The Second Sunday of Advent [C]
Baruch 5:1-9 + Philippians 1:4-6,8-11 + Luke 3:1-6
December 6, 2015
“A voice of one crying out in the desert….”
In the year of Our Lord 1535, Saint Thomas More was beheaded for calling a spade a spade and for refusing to call a king the Pope. When Pope Clement VII refused to dissolve the marriage of King Henry VIII, the king proclaimed himself the head of the Church in England. He forced all nobleman and clergy to sign an oath to this effect, and they all did so, with the exception of a small number of men, the most famous of whom was Thomas More.
I have only had the chance to visit England once in my life, in 1998. I made sure that I would be able to visit the cell of Thomas More in the Tower of London, where he lived for one year and three months. It’s more like a cave, really: not much larger than our two sacristies put together, and twice as dark. That’s the thing I remember most about his cell: how dark it was. There are no windows, not even with bars. There are simply slits carved into the stone walls, about four inches wide by four feet high.
Thomas More is a man often described as “a man for all seasons.” The play and movie about his martyrdom have this same title. Here was a man — living over four hundred years ago— who was content in life when it offered him luxury, and content in life when it offered him imprisonment and death. His contentment came from his spiritual relationship with God, whom Thomas More knew was with him during all these very different seasons of his life.
Because of his great wit and intelligence, Thomas had been sought out by many people for his counsel, not the least of whom was King Henry. Several years before Thomas More’s martyrdom, King Henry was so eager for More’s company and advice that he traveled during the middle of the night to More’s home in the country. The king threw pebbles at his window until he woke, and the two spent much of the rest of the night in conversation.
The next morning, More’s son-in-law, in awe at his father-in-law, declared to More, “How happy you must be that you are so honored by the king.” And yet, Thomas’ reply revealed his wise understanding of where things truly stood. He replied to his son-in-law, “I tell you, if my head could win the king a single castle in France, it should not fail to go.” In the midst of what seemed to be the summer of his life, St. Thomas knew that he was no more than a pebble’s throw from a dark and cold winter.
Despite the fact that he gave himself completely to the service of his country, he knew that his service meant nothing if it was not rooted in the Truth. On the scaffold, Thomas More said, “I ask those present to bear witness that I now here suffer death in and for the faith of the Holy Catholic Church… I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
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Certainly Thomas More is a man for the season of Advent. As we hear St. John the Baptist today preparing the way for Jesus, we can hear in his words the same truth for which St. Thomas More lived and died. In this is a challenge for us: to form our consciences, to confess our sins sacramentally, and to seek reconciliation where our sins have broken bonds of love.
St. John the Baptist “went about the entire region of the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance which led to the forgiveness of sins.” Penance, and the changing of one’s ways, are familiar to anyone familiar with the prophets of the Old Testament, such as Baruch, whose words we hear in today’s First Reading.
The kingdom that Jesus came to earth to establish is not one which seeks to conquer others, but one which invites “children gathered from the east and west” to share in God’s splendor, “rejoicing that they are remembered by God”, as Baruch prophesies. Each of us as a member of Christ’s Body shares in the missionary command given to the Church. So we should consider in Advent who it is that we should be inviting to share in the riches that we may have in our lives.
There are a lot of similarities between Advent and Lent. Both seasons are times of preparation, and waiting. Much of what we see and hear during these two seasons are similar: even the color of violet reminds us of what they have in common. Sacramentally, these two seasons also have something in common: an emphasis on repentance, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
Now, I don’t think any of us has trouble understanding why during Lent, our preparation for Jesus’ Passion, Death and rising from the dead, involves a very close examination of conscience, confession of sins, and reception of the graces of the Sacrament of Confession. But why during Advent? After all, what we’re preparing for is the Birth of Jesus, a season of joy. So what’s the connection? St. John the Baptizer makes the connection for us.
St. Luke the Evangelist quotes from the Old Testament, from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, to describe John the Baptizer as “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight his paths.’”
Reflect on the following image: God’s grace is like a river, which streams towards us. We have the power to divert that river of grace away from our lives. But John the Baptizer is proclaiming the need to do just the opposite, to an extreme. He’s not just saying, “Don’t divert God’s grace away from you.” He’s saying, “Actually go out, and dig a channel, dig a canal from the river to the place where you live. Prepare the way of the LORD, so that His grace has the straightest possible path into your life.”
To do this clearly takes a lot of sacrifice. I doubt many of us have ever dug a ditch, or a canal, and I doubt many of us would ever be willing to take up that sort of hard work. But imagining this gives us an idea of how seriously we should prepare spiritually for Christmas. God is preparing to give us the greatest gift possible, the most joyous gift that a human person can receive. We do this so that in our lives, we can live as God did when He took on a human nature in the person of the Christ Child.
Take advantage of the opportunities during Advent to prepare a path into your soul for the child who wants to be Emmanuel, God with us in our daily life.