The third week of Advent is upon us, which means that the end is near! Are you ready? No, not for Christmas, but for the second coming of Christ! Christmas will come and we will be ready enough, but if this time hasn't helped us to prepare for Christ's second coming, then we haven't used this time well. Go to confession. Pray. Then look with expectant hope for Jesus to come again in glory. Then will you be able to rejoice, because the end is near.
Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent – Cycle B
In one form or another, we all have probably seen them. I call them “sandwich board prophets.” You know, the ones who walk through city streets or stand on street corners wearing a sandwich board sign that in big, hand-painted letters reads “The end is near!” These folks will tell you that they are reading the “signs of the times”—that is, they are interpreting current events—and that these indicate that the end of civilization as we know it—or, perhaps, even the end of the universe itself—is very near. It can be an unsettling message for someone just going about their day; one that can leave him or her feeling rather uncomfortable.
However you may have seen them (if not in real life then depicted in films or in TV shows or on the news), they almost always have the appearance of someone who isn’t quite connected with mainstream culture. These folks usually look pretty disheveled: long, unkempt hair, ratty clothes, a scraggly beard (on men), and a look in their eyes that makes you question who’s really there behind them. Thus, in spite of their discomfiting message (or, perhaps, because of it), you find it easy to shrug them off. And why? Well, because he or she looks… what? Crazy! Yep, they’re crazy. Because if they’re crazy then we can forget about what they are trying to tell us and go on with our comfortable lives.
A couple of millennia ago, a man named John came from a little hill town of Judea and began to proclaim an uncomfortable message to the people of Judah. “Repent”, he said, “and be baptized, for a mighty one, the Lord’s anointed, is coming!” This man John was crying out in a deserted place, outside of Jerusalem. The author of the Gospel of Mark tells us that “he was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist” and that “he fed on locusts and wild honey.” It certainly doesn’t stretch the imagination to think that this John would look right at home on a street corner in New York City with a sandwich board sign on his shoulders reading “The end is near!” (Perhaps this is where the modern sandwich board prophets got their look.)
John’s message was certainly uncomfortable for many. Unlike our modern examples of sandwich board prophets, however, people were actually listening to John’s message and they were coming to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. Thus, in spite of the fact that many, perhaps, wanted to sign him off as crazy, the people of Judah were forced to take him seriously. And so, as we heard today from the Gospel of John, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent a delegation of priests and Levites (that is, men from the priestly tribe of Levi) to find out who he was. John’s message was uncomfortable and so they needed a way to make sense of it and, perhaps, to explain it away.
John, however, eludes their categories. First, John straightly admits that he is not the Christ. He would not allow even the slightest bit of speculation to be circulated about that question. Then, they ask if he is Elijah, the prophet, who, it was believed, would appear again just before the Messiah would come. But, in spite of the fact that, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus himself will say that John is Elijah, John denies it. Next the priests and Levites ask if he is the Prophet (that is, the one who Moses predicted would arise after him). Again, John denies it. Frustrated, they finally give in and say “Just tell us, because we have to have something to tell the religious leaders back in Jerusalem!” To this John gives an enigmatic answer: “I am a voice crying out… Prepare!” The Jewish leaders wanted another category in which to put him so that they might feel more comfortable with him; but he defied their categorization.
John, however, seems to have seen himself as fulfilling a prophesy of Isaiah; and thus sharing in the same “anointing of God’s spirit” that Isaiah claimed to have in our first reading. Isaiah’s message was something much more joyful; for he claimed that he was sent “to announce a year of favor from the Lord”, in which those who suffer would be freed from their suffering. This was a very joyful message for those who heard it and many of the people of Israel rejoiced with him for having proclaimed it.
Each of us has been anointed with God’s Spirit. In our baptism, we were cleansed of sin and became children of God: temples of God’s Holy Spirit. In Confirmation, the Gift of the Holy Spirit was sealed within us, strengthening us to announce Good News to the people of the world. (Our Brother, Tim, is about to receive this sealing as he is received into full communion with the Church.) Because each of us has been anointed and sealed with God’s Holy Spirit in this way, we are each called to make some proclamation in our lives. Some of us, like Isaiah in today’s reading, may feel like we have been given a joyful message that the end of suffering is upon us because of the death and resurrection of Jesus our Savior. Others, like John, may feel like we have been given a discomfiting message: the call to repentance because the time of the Lord’s return is near. In reality, however, these two calls often interchange through the different seasons of our lives. Nevertheless, the call to proclaim these messages as Good News remains unchanging.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge today that each of us is called to be a “sandwich board prophet”, because each of us, through our baptism and confirmation, has been anointed with the Lord’s Spirit to proclaim the coming age of the end of suffering and thus to call all people to repent—that is to turn away from their worldly comfort—so as to prepare for the coming of the Mighty One, the Lord’s Anointed, Jesus, Our Savior, who is coming after us and who surely is coming soon. What’s that? Sure. Go ahead and clothe yourself in camel’s hair if that helps inspire you to take up your call; but it’s not necessary. All that’s needed is a love of our Lord Jesus and a fervent desire that everyone else would know and love him, too. (And, by the way, if you’re missing either of these things, then seek the Lord in prayer and ask him to draw near, most especially here in the Holy Eucharist: for He surely will.)
Let us, then, take up this call (and our sandwich board, if necessary) and proclaim the coming of our Lord. For when we do, we will acknowledge that the end is truly near and we will hasten the Lord’s coming; thus hastening the time when we will truly know what it means to rejoice.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 14th, 2014