December 8, 2013
Second Sunday of Advent
R. (cf. 7) Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
Last Spring, when the Masses were over, on a beautiful, summer day, like today, I was very anxious to get out on the road for a bike ride. After some afternoon responsibilities, time, I raced home to put on the bicycling attire for a quick away. My parents have made me agree to always take my cell phone along before I go on the road with the bike, so I stuck it quickly in the little travel bag that rides back under the seat. Before long, I was off! I just wish I would have zipped the bag before I left!
Maybe an hour into the ride, I stopped for a break, only to notice the travel bag unzipped—and the cell phone gone. That’s a rather sickening feeling! After a moment to take that in, it was time to retrace my route, hoping to find the place where it fell out—but an hour is a lot of rolling—maybe 15 miles. After an entire hour and a half of searching (one had to go a bit slower to search), with no luck and with it getting darker, I had to accept my carelessness and give up—however, a night without the phone ringing isn’t the worst thing . . . I did log-0n to my carrier’s website, and disable the phone . . .
But, as it turns out, even while I was looking for the cell phone, it was looking for me! True, it is a “smart phone,” but it did have some help. Even while I was looking for it, it had been found, by a kind “good Samaritan,” who, having found it, began dialing my most recent numbers. First, my parents received a rather disturbing message from a stranger that “my cell phone had been found by the side of the road.” Next, others were called, until Fr. Bob Gross was contacted, who came over to rectory, just as I was settling in for a “technology free night” to tell me, that my cell phone had found me. It did come as some relief, both to me, and to my family, that I had been found.
I share this rather embarrassing story only to highlight a truth, so simple, so basic, that can allude all of us as well: just like my phone, so too for us. Even while we are looking and waiting for God, we are being sought and searched for! Let’s not forget! For, along the path that each of our lives takes, along the twists and turns that the course of our lives take, inevitably we’ll arrive at a place where we’ll suddenly feel out of sorts, even panicky, and feeling we’re lost, without what we need, even despairing. We may be unable to find any way out of our situation. We certainly may feel powerless, helpless, stranded.
The message of the gospel today is this: even as we look for help, we are already being pursued, sought after. We can, in a certain sense, stop and be found. It might not seem at first that the gospel focuses on this message, but a closer look is necessary. The gospel begins with the figure of John the Baptist. In his familiar preaching, he’s out in the desert, fasting, with a dramatic message to those who have gone out to him: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Do the people seem to resent, and resist the call to repentance, to turn from their sins? No, the gospel states that they flow out of the cities, into the desert, and acknowledge their sins. Could they not have acknowledged their sins back in the cities, back in their comfortable homes? No, for while we’re still immersed in our sinful acts, we cannot find the freedom to acknowledge them for what they are—acts that are literally sapping the life out of us! No, we need to renounce them, distance ourselves from the occasions of sin, before we can acknowledge how damaging they are and turn away—repent.
However, note there is more to the message than just “repent,” than just the need to acknowledge our sin and turn away. This is where it becomes clear why the crowds made such an effort to come and hear the preaching of John the Baptist. For part II of his message is the one that has given the crowds such hope: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” NB: He does not say, the Kingdom of Heaven will be coming soon.NOR: The Kingdom of Heaven will be this when it comes.NO, he says the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.Literally, his words mean: the Kingdom of Heaven has appeared, it’s here, it has arrived.The Kingdom of Heaven, he goes on to say, is not a system of wise and clever teachings, nor is it a new political party, nor is it merely some new prophetic promise of how God will act.
No, the Kingdom of Heaven is a person—Jesus. He is the Kingdom of Heaven—the very action of God, come to earth, ruling in our midst already. The Kingdom of Heaven is God in Jesus coming to us, even while we are looking for Him. As we look up, down, all around, searching for God to come to us in our need, John the Baptist’s message for us is this: you already have what you need—Jesus—He’s already here!
How has the Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven come? As one scripture scholar observed, “[the Kingdom of heaven has come] with soft steps, one at a time, the steps of the donkey carrying Jesus and Mary in the Sinai desert, the steps of the young man Jesus on the streets of Nazareth and now out in the Jordan desert. . . . Since humanity was too stubborn to take an upward course towards God, the love at the Heart of the Trinity bounded down from its throne.” The Kingdom of Heaven has already appeared because Jesus has appeared. Our call is to repent and believe: to turn from those things that are not of God and towards the one who is God—Jesus Christ, the Word in our midst.
Down the course of our lives, we can become lost, confused, afraid, and we are constantly searching for the one who made us and saves us. To us in our searching, John the Baptist speaks to us: Repent! The kingdom of have is at hand! Repent: “Turn your minds away from the attitudes you have defined yourselves as the goal of your life, and come back to the mind of God.” Turn around and look here—look to Christ, the Kingdom of God, God with us—all the while you’ve been searching, he has been seeking you! With Christ, God with us, even here given to us at this altar, our searching is over, and we have been found.