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Homily For the Second Sunday of Advent

References: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

 

When I was still a young man, in my twenties, I would often stop in one of the local bars for a glass of beer before going home. There were five small bars in the very small town in which I lived, and if you were to go into any one of them at any time, you would know everyone who was there. Because we were all Catholic, and because I worked as the parish secretary, when I would come into the bar, everyone would call me 'Father John.' I didn't like being called 'Father John,' even though I knew they were trying to be funny, because it implied that I wasn't good enough to compete the world of dating and marriage.

 

Years later, when I was in the seminary, I complained about this to the priest who was my spiritual director, who laughed at me and sent me to look up the reasons the Church had for rejecting men who wanted to be priests. And there it was, in black and white, words that I would never forget: "In regard to impediments of admission: 'You must look good, have no lack of bodily integrity, no illness or weakness, no notable ugliness or deformity.'" Harsh, way too harsh. Why did the Church even say things like that about young men who wanted to be priests? Well, one can presume that the Church felt that ugliness did not attract people, and if you were going to convince people to follow Jesus, you needed to be attractive. You can't spread the Good News if the first thing people notice when they meet you is that you are as homely as a hedgehog; you can't get people to turn away from sin when you're as ugly as it.

 

Today's Gospel reading proves that all of that was simply a lie. Before we even meet Jesus, we meet John the Baptist, a man living in the desert, a man who never shaved, clothed in camel's skin, with a leather belt around his waist, eating grasshoppers and wild honey. This image made me think of the character Tom Hanks played in the movie 'Castaway,' a dirty, hairy man with pathetic clothing. Perhaps not the kind of person you would want to bring home to Mom and Dad. Yet we are told about John the Baptist, "People from the whole countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to see and listen to him." Clearly, John the Baptist was very attractive to people, so what's going on here? The truth is attractive. John the Baptist speaks the truth, and people flock to him. He does not seek glory for himself; in fact, he accepts that he must become less so that Jesus can become more. He preaches not for his own gain, but instead proclaims a future of wonders that are just being born as Jesus begins his ministry. His message is simple: "Come forth and confess your sins, because the Kingdom of God is at hand," good news about our future and our forgiveness, not a bad deal.

 

We see that so often today, both in the popular media and on the local level; the slick and clever message that doesn't stick and doesn't last. It comes from preachers, both women and men, 'celebrities for Jesus,' who are looking to make a buck and end up hurting Christians and losing their way completely. Then we look at where we are and the events we celebrate in this Season called Advent. The Christ Child about to be born is the least likely of people we would go out to see. There is no reason to be drawn to that kind of person either, at least not on the surface. And yet that attracts all kinds of people, shepherds, kings, wise men and women, angels. Eventually, all the John the Baptist himself, someone who knew that God speaks most clearly through the gritty and the humble. Why, Jesus has even attracted us. Through word and deed, Jesus comforted souls and healed their bodies. Jesus made his preaching credible with his love in action. Jesus is asking us to do the same, 'while we wait for the coming of the day of God,' and do everything we can to make it come quickly.

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