December 8, 2019 Second Sunday in Advent Fr Andy Upah

Second Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 IS 11:1-10

  Responsorial Psalm PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
Reading 2 ROM 15:4-9
Alleluia LK 3:4, 6 
Gospel MT 3:1-12

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent 12/8/2019 IS 11:1-10 PS 72 ROM 15:4-9 MT 3:1-12

Today’s readings speak of the coming of the Messiah.  The first reading, psalm and the Gospel gave prophecies of Jesus, and the second reading shows how Jesus fulfills the prophecy that the Messiah would also save the Gentiles.

In the Gospel, John the Baptist speaks for the first time in scripture, and it is a message of preparation and repentance.  There hadn’t been a prophet for over 400 years in Israel and suddenly John the Baptist arrives with an uncomfortable message.

He calls out the Jewish leaders for their hypocrisy.  He tells them they need to produce good fruit as evidence of their repentance.  He tells them they are presuming their salvation. 

Many of them thought that just because they were Jewish, children of Abraham, and that they followed the law externally that they would be saved. John the Baptist was telling them that wasn’t good enough, that they needed to change internally as well.

The Jews were supposed to be a light to the nations, to share their wisdom and understanding of God with all of their neighbors, but they were selfish, they just wanted to keep God to themselves and not evangelize their neighbors, and that why John tells them, “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

So this message probably doesn't match up with their expectations about the Messiah set by the prophet Isaiah centuries before, the one that would bring peace to all, where the “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb”, “The baby shall play by the cobra's den” and “There shall be no harm or ruin.

The reality is that they needed to be honest and truly repent in order to receive the peace promised by Isaiah, so John the Baptist had the uncomfortable mission of telling them that.

Now during Advent, we are called to prepare for the coming of Jesus through repentance, and I have the uncomfortable mission of telling you that.  

It isn’t something unfamiliar to us, at every Mass we stop to repent from our sins at the very beginning, I say it in different words often on Saturday or Sunday, but most days I say, “Brothers and Sisters, let us acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”

Repentance is part of preparation.   That is why the Church typically offers more opportunities for confession during Advent, with communal penance services and extra opportunities.  

But our repentance is more than just going to confession and hearing the words of absolution, it is about receiving God’s grace into our hearts and changing our lives as a result.  It is about producing good fruit as evidence of that change.

Advent is a time where the Church really has us focus on our preparations, however, the world wants us to focus on our preparations too, by buying presents and putting up decorations and cooking tons of goodies and huge meals. Let us not get distracted from our heavenly preparations by these seemingly urgent earthly ones!

I have the uncomfortable mission of telling you that it isn’t enough to just come to Mass during Advent as our preparation, rather, we need to slow down, we need to pray, we need to redirect our focus from what the world wants us to focus on, worldly preparations, to focus rather on preparing our heart.

When we truly prepare our hearts, when we repent and allow Jesus to enter into our lives every moment, then it will be easy to see the good fruit that results from our lived relationship with Him

The spirit promised by Isaiah, “a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,” that spirit is for all of us, and it is made available through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

John the Baptist was preparing the Jews for the coming of Jesus and the reception of the spirit.  If they had truly repented and their hearts were changed and they would have allowed Jesus in, I believe we would have more peace now.

In that second reading, Paul said, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The reason we don’t have harmony and peace on earth is that we all aren’t accepting of Jesus Christ as our Lord and saviour.  Isaiah’s prophecy said, “There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD.” 

There are still many people that aren’t “filled with the knowledge of the LORD,” and the world clearly isn’t perfect, so what do WE do now?

Well, now the best thing we can do is to really prepare ourselves, to make sure we are ready for Jesus to come, by repenting, changing in the ways the Lord is calling us to change, and by producing good fruit for our neighbors to see.  

We can only control so much in our lives, so we control what we can, and rather than get disappointed in a lack of peace in our world, we must let the fullness of peace reign in our hearts. So make room for silence in your life every day this week. Set aside at least 5 minutes to pray at a convenient time for you to ask Jesus what it is He wants you to repent of and how He’s calling you to change.

May Our Heavenly Father bless our preparations for the coming of His Son and His Spirit into our hearts and into our lives.


Amanda's Advent Talk


I think Advent is hard. Lent is so much easier because there’s structure! It’s prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It’s a time of penance. Jesus is in the desert. It makes sense! Granted, that doesn’t mean the practice of Lent is easy. But there’s a better-defined starting place!

So it’s always about a week into Advent that I realize I’m not very good at Advent… which is why I wanted to do this talk today, the second Sunday of Advent. Because maybe you’re like me. I always find myself saying “Okay, THIS Advent I’m going to be intentional.”

So I asked Jesus a couple weeks ago, “What do You want me do this Advent?” and He responded, “Make a home.” And so I prayed about that some more and I got excited about all my ideas and then I wrote a talk about it … and it sucked. So I went back to prayer. I actually sat on the ground in front of the Sacred Heart statue in the back of church and I prayed again. I asked Jesus to reveal to me what part of my heart He wanted me to share for this talk. He took me back to a place in my life and started to speak His truth into it. He helped me relive this actually really difficult memory and showed me what it was He was doing.

Let me set the stage. My sister and I were best friends, but when I moved to Milwaukee after college we started getting distant. She wouldn’t call me as often as she used to, she didn’t return my calls as often as she used to, but I thought it was fine. She had a new boyfriend and I was loving life in Milwaukee. That year I had the amazing opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Rome. We left during the second week of Advent and I was going to spend Christmas there.

That Advent in Rome was the most memorable Advent of my life because on December 16, 2017, while I was on my pilgrimage, my sister stopped talking to me.

I was so excited to spend Advent in Rome. I was excited to let the saints, martyrs, and universal church teach me about what it means to really prepare for Christ’s birth. I was excited to walk the roads and see the sights that the saints I looked up to walked and saw. I was excited to enjoy some good Italian wine haha. We got there and it was awesome. It was like a dream come true. My favorite thing was that before we left Milwaukee we celebrated mass together and the first thing we did when we got in to Rome was that we went to a chapel and celebrated mass together again. It just struck me so powerfully that the same Jesus that we left in the tabernacle in Milwaukee was waiting for us there in Rome. It’s amazing how truly universal this faith of ours is!

Anyway, a couple days in I skyped my mom and asked her if she had heard from my sister. She hadn’t and we were both really worried about her. So I Facebook messaged my sister and I said, “Hey, I’m not sure what I did or why you’re not talking to me but please talk to mom. She’s worried sick about you.” and what my sister responded completely rocked my world. She told me that she’s fine, but that she was going through something really difficult and that she needed some space to figure things out. She had been hurt in so many ways the preceding years and I had to sit by and watch it happen, but she told me about something that I had done to her that I didn’t remember doing and had no idea how it had affected her. But finally she told me that she especially needed space from me and asked me not to talk to her again. I can’t tell you how devastating that was for me.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I was totally consumed by my guilt that something that I had done had caused so much pain to the person I cared about most in the entire world. I tried to Skype my best friend to talk to her about it, but the Wifi in the hotel wasn’t very good so it took forever. All of my friends were already asleep. I was totally alone and left thinking about how there isn’t a worse sinner in the entire world than me. Eventually I left the hotel and spent a few hours wandering the streets of Rome all alone in the dark.

As I was praying and sitting by the Sacred Heart statue as I prepared this talk, I looked up at this representation of Jesus and I said “Why do you want me to share this story, Jesus? This freaking hurts.” And He brought to mind Isaiah 9:2-7 (read from bible)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.            those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.…

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;            and the government will be upon his shoulder, and this name will be called

“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

That night in Rome I felt more alone than I had ever felt in my whole life. I was face to face with my own guilt, shame, brokenness, and sin. I was in so much pain and I was so far away from home. But then as I was walking the streets, slightly scared I was going to get kidnapped, I turned a corner and there was the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica, illuminated against the dark Roman sky. I think it’s my favorite sight in the world. The structure looms above the city illuminated by a golden yellow. It’s a gorgeous light bluish color that slightly tarnished from age set against the dark Italian night sky. As I walked towards it, I felt the Holy Spirit remind me that I was right at home with Mother Church and that I was walking into her arms.

I stood in St. Peter’s square just staring at that basilica for a long time. In those moments, I was the person who walked in darkness. But Jesus showed me how it was because of that darkness that I could see a great light. THAT is what Advent is all about. Christmas isn’t just about the birth of Christ. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus’s Incarnation was the first step in His redemptive work. Jesus was born of Mary BECAUSE His people dwelt in a land of deep darkness. And then John 3:16-21.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.

God created us to be in perfect union with Himself, but because of sin, the sin of Adam and Eve that is perpetuated by our own personal sin, that relationship was severed, and we cast ourselves into the land of darkness. But as we heard in John, God continued to love us, and He sent Jesus to be the light that has come into the world and redeem us from our sin. He lived, suffered, and died that our relationship with Him might be restored. We can’t hear that too many times! And in His glorious resurrection, Jesus invites us into restored relationship with Him through His Holy Church.

In St. Peter’s square with St. Peter on one side, St. Paul on the other, and Jesus before me, I was in that place of spiritual darkness, but it is precisely BECAUSE of that darkness that I have cause to rejoice. Because if we don’t need to be saved from anything then we don’t need a Savior, we don’t need Jesus. In those moments, I KNEW I needed a savior. I had sinned, but Jesus had already died for my sin and He wanted to take me and hold me and heal me, all He needed from me was a “Yes” to allow it. It took me a very long time to let that truth really sink into my bones and to trust Him to redeem my sin, and it’s something that I’m still pursuing, but I know that the only way to achieve it is through a deep relationship with Christ.

We as a Church set aside Advent to recommit ourselves to our “Yes” to Jesus. To join our “yes” once more to Mary’s as she said “Fiat mihi secudum verbum tuum” … “Be it done to be according to your word.” Our preparation in Advent is twofold. We prepare both to celebrate the coming of Christ’s birth as well as the second coming of Christ at the end of times. These two events challenge us to two responses. “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” I kind of like to think of it as “Believe in the gospel and repent.”

Like I said before, Christmas is the celebration of God becoming man, of the Incarnation, and then His subsequent act of redemption. Do we believe that? Do we believe that Jesus is the Son of God? The one who took on flesh to be a light in the darkness? Do we believe that He walked the earth 2000 years ago, suffered, died, and rose from the dead? C.S. Lewis said that there is one of three options. Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. If Jesus is who He said He is, what does that mean for us? Do we believe that? We celebrate Christmas because God became man to save the people from the darkness of this world. I don’t think you need to be a Christian to see that this world needs a savior. But is that savior Jesus?

I had been a faithful Catholic for a long time up until this point, and I’m not going to lie this thing really shook me. I had to really ask if I believed that Jesus really is who He says He is. Because if Jesus is who He says He is, then my sin, no matter how grievous, could be redeemed. Then the suffering that my sister and I were going through wasn’t for nothing. If Jesus is who He says He is then He will use every evil as an opportunity for glory, as He used the evil of the crucifixion for the glory of the resurrection. And the answer was a resounding YES! Yes! I believe Jesus is who He says He is! Because He’s proven Himself faithful to me countless ways before. I want you each to think about that in your own life. Where has Jesus proven Himself faithful to you? If you can’t think of something, I want to challenge you to ask Him to demonstrate His unwavering faithfulness and love for you somehow. Keep asking Him.

The second part of our Advent preparation is equally important. Because our lives here on this side of eternity matter. What we do matters. Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.”

When I was riddled with guilt, wandering the streets of Rome, believe me I did not rejoice in my sin. But I was eventually able to rejoice because I knew Jesus was going to bring amazing things out of the pain caused by my sin, but I did not rejoice in my sin. Like Paul in 2 Corinthians, I’m learning to rejoice in my weakness. As we heard in our readings and from Fr. Andy’s homily today, Advent is a season where we’re called to repent. The first step of repentance is acknowledging our need for it! I think a lot of the pain in the world right now is because we, you and me as well as the world at large, don’t acknowledge that our actions often harm our neighbor and harm our God. In fact, we rarely treat God like God. Something else sits on His throne, whether it’s our selves, money, pleasure, fame, comfort, or any other number of false idols. In order to follow Jesus’s command to repent and believe in the gospel we have to acknowledge our sinfulness and ask His forgiveness.

Jesus is always the first one to initiate. As I walked into St Peter’s square that night I felt Jesus welcoming me home. He said even in my sin I belonged there. But such an invitation demanded a response. If Jesus was going to be my home, I needed to become a home for Him too. 

In seeking His forgiveness first in prayer but especially through the sacrament of reconciliation, we make our hearts a place fit for Him to dwell. Mary was Christ’s first dwelling place because she was preserved from sin so that Jesus could use her to fulfill His saving mission. Through her yes, her “fiat,” Mary became the living Ark of the Covenant, the earthly place where God’s presence laid. She was the very first tabernacle.

Tabernacle translated means “dwelling place.” Even though we were not preserved from sin, Jesus still desired us to be His tabernacle, His dwelling place, His home here in the world. It is through the sacraments we can be restored so as to receive Jesus into our hearts and bodies like Mary did that first Christmas. I think that’s what Jesus meant when He told me to “Make a home” this Advent. He wanted me to seek to make my heart a suitable dwelling place for him. What are the things I now need to repent of? What are those things that are keeping me from living my life as Christ wants? Jesus is the one who knows. So ask Him.

We practice preparing to receive Jesus at Christmas so we know how to receive him in our daily lives. We practice repentance now so that we can repent at every moment of weakness. We practice acknowledging Him as our one true Savior and God so that we can seek Him out every moment of our lives. 

I went to confession on Christmas Eve in the Basilica of St Mary Major to confess that thing that I felt most terribly about in the entire world. And I was easily forgiven. And Jesus taught me over the next few months how to live my life as a prayer for healing for my sister and our relationship. I’m happy to say that after months of intense prayer, my sister and I talk again, but I know that God has so much more in His plan for us. 

So THIS Advent, as we hear the story of Jesus being born in a humble stable and being lain in a humble manger. Remember that Jesus CHOSE that. The King of Kings resides with the poor of spirit. Be humble, approach Him, tell Him about your immense need for Him, ask Him to show you what He wants of you. Ultimately, what He wants is for you to love Him with your whole mind, your whole soul, with all your spirit, and all your strength.

Christmas is about Christ offering His human arms out to us in love. He offers us His entire self so that we can be in a unique, human, personal relationship with Him, do we accept Him? If so, do something about it. Repent and believe in the gospel.