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The Second Sunday of Advent
December 5, 2021

Watch this homily! (Begins at 37:15)

    Advent always seems short to me. I know it doesn’t seem short to kids excited for Christmas, but it does to me. Too short, really, for accomplishing the important work of Advent. And what is the work of Advent? A look at today’s scriptures, with special attention to John the Baptist, is a good place to find out. John the Baptist is the great Advent preacher, the great Advent prophet.  To underline the Baptist’s importance, St. Luke introduces him with what one commentator calls “a chronological drumroll.” He presents him right alongside the great powers of the day, civil and religious, including the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar; the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate; Herod the Tetrarch; and the high priests of the Jewish faith, Annas and Caiphas. It strikes me that John the Baptist, humble man that he was, would have been quite surprised to find himself in that company, but there he is!

     Once he makes his appearance, we see John traveling throughout the whole region of the Jordan valley preaching to the people: preaching repentance, challenging people to be converted, to change their lives. Something new is afoot, John tells them: God is about to move among them in new and powerful ways, and to drive his point home, he quotes the prophet Isaiah, giving contemporary urgency to ancient prophecy: “Prepare the way of the Lord,” he says, “Make straight his paths!”

     In those few words, John gives us the work of Advent – presents us with the perfect Advent ‘program’: we are to prepare the way of the Lord. And how are we to do that?  By repenting, he tells us -- being converted, changing, turning our lives around. Now I ask you: who of us couldn’t profit by that? Isn’t conversion something we all need?

     Conversion can cover a lot of different bases. For some of us, conversion might simply mean reordering our priorities by putting Sunday Mass at the center of our week. That’s not so easily done, I know, given all the things that compete for our attention on the weekends. And it’s not so easily done if the habit has been lost or the commitment compromised over time, but it’s doable with God’s grace, a willing heart, and some resolve. What would it be like, I ask myself, if we had a “Twelfth Man” passion or a Kracken passion for Sunday Mass! So there’s one possible conversion.

     And there are others we might consider, too. For instance, we need conversion if our work has become a greater focus than our family; or if our relationships are more about ourselves than about the other; or if our personal comfort blinds us to the needs of the poor; or if we are so caught up with our own issues that we ignore the great and pressing issues facing the human family: issues like climate change, racial and economic injustice, the plight of refugees, the epidemic of gun violence, the casual disregard for the value of each and every human life, especially the most vulnerable.

      You get the idea. Conversion can have many faces and can take many paths, and true conversion cuts across the entire landscape of our lives. In the imagery of today’s scriptures, it involves hard work – hard as leveling mountains and filling in valleys, making winding roads straight and rough ways smooth. Hard work, for sure, but worthwhile work because, in the end, conversion leads to freedom and liberation. And it leads to joy - the kind of joy that the Prophet Baruch described so poetically in today’s first reading: standing upon the heights, changing the robes of mourning and misery for the glorious cloak of justice. So, no matter how hard the work of conversion, it’s worth it because of the transformation it brings, the liberation, the joy!

     And, my friends, no matter how personal a matter conversion is, it comes to life in community, the community we call the Church. Our journey of faith, our path to conversion, is not a solitary walk. We are in this together, and whenever we gather in community to celebrate the sacraments as we have today, conversion gets a jumpstart - or it gains momentum. It’s in community that we experience what St. Paul, in the reading Philippians, called “partnership for the gospel.” That’s a way of saying that the gospel, the good news, is preached and lived in a partnership that involves us all – not just people like me: the whole Church - all the baptized - all of us working together and walking together in this imperfect but holy partnership that is the Church!

     Dear friends, it’s Advent, it’s conversion time, and it all starts here – at the table of the Eucharist. Our sharing in the Eucharist can wake us up to all the ways we need to grow. It can disturb our complacency and take us beyond our comfort zone. The Eucharist can change minds and hearts in ways nothing else can. That’s true with regard to our personal lives, for sure, but conversion also challenges us as members of a society that is torn apart by hatred, violence, racism, injustice, and the selfish exploitation of God’s creation. The power of the Eucharist is personal, for certain, but it is also cosmic. So, in a few minutes when we pray together the words, “Only say the word and my soul will be healed,” we will also be saying in effect, ‘Only say the word and our world will be healed’ because we have something to do with the healing of our world!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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