|I'm sure these words
are very familiar to you. We say them very frequently in our Eucharistic
Prayer: One day you will come again in the fullness of your glory. Then,
in your kingdom, there will be no more suffering, no more tears, and no
It’s a proclamation of
the reign of God. This is what St. Peter is referring today when he says,
“We wait for a new heaven and a new earth in which justice reigns.”
The reign of God is a
time of total peace, a time where justice prevails among all the peoples
of the earth. It is a time when each of us, and every person, can
experience the deepest and fullness of life and joy, coming to our full
humanness as a kind of person God created us to be -- the reign of God.
As I mentioned last week,
during this season of Advent, it’s the reign of God that we’re preparing
for during this season, not Christmas. Jesus was born into human history
2,000 years ago. That happened, that extraordinary intervention on the
part of God into human history. We’re not preparing for the end of the
world, we’re preparing for the fullness of God’s reign in a transformed
world, a new heaven and a new earth.
And, perhaps, like those
early Christians that St. Peter was writing to, we begin to wonder, “Is
it really going to happen? Is the reign of God going to come about?” But
as St. Peter reminded them, “A day to God is like a thousand years, and
a thousand years is like a day.”
We think that our few
thousand years of human history on this earth are a long time, but in God’s
eternity, it’s nothing. And so we have to be like those first Christians,
reminded that even though it might seem to be a long time to us in the
sight of God, it’s happening, it’s happening right now. The reign
of God is beginning to break forth.
Jesus said when he first
began his preaching, “The reign of God is at hand. It’s breaking forth
into this world right now.” And as I’ve mentioned to us, many times, it’s
our task as disciples of Jesus to keep on working to transform our world
into as close an image of that reign of God as possible.
So, during this Advent
season, as we prepare for the fullness of God’s reign to break forth in
our lives and in our world, the first thing we can draw from today’s lessons
is a sense of confidence.
We take this from the
first lesson today when that prophet cried out to the people, “Be comforted.
Be comforted, my people. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem. Proclaim to her
that her time of bondage is at an end and her guilt has been paid for.”
When that prophet proclaimed
those words, the people were living in exile, their nation had been destroyed,
Jerusalem was in ruins, the temple had been destroyed, and for fifty years
they had lived in brutal exile and suffering. So when the prophet says
those words so powerful and so clearly, “Be comforted my people. Be strengthened,
the time of your bondage is at an end.” They might have doubted because
there was no evidence that it was going to happen. But then, in a very
extraordinary way, God chose the Persian emperor, Cyrus, not even a member
of God’s chosen people, to bring about their return, to restore them to
the fullness of their life in Jerusalem, to reestablish their nation. It
happened. What the prophet said was true. God’s word is a word of power
and when God’s word is spoken you are guaranteed that it will happen.
And so when Jesus says,
“The reign of God is at hand,” God is speaking to us and we can know with
certitude that it is happening and that the reign of God is coming into
its fullness. We need not doubt for a moment that the word of God is power.
What God says will happen.
But then, also, from
these lessons today, we’re being taught how we must act so that we can
enter into this reign of God; how we must transform our lives like those
people from Jerusalem and all of Judea who went out to John the Baptist,
confessed their sins and renewed their commitment to God’s covenant. That’s
what John was doing through that baptism. It was a ritual that was used
for people who wanted to become Jews. Proselytes would go through a ritual
of walking through the waters and be plunged into those waters as a sign
that they were joining the chosen people who had passed through the Red
Sea in order to become God’s people.
And now John said to
them, “All of you must renew your own covenant, your own commitment, and
pass through the waters again, renew your covenant with God.” And that
is what God is asking us today, renew our covenant.
And Mark tells us that
the messenger of God is sent to remind us of how we must do this: “I am
sending my messenger ahead of you to prepare your way. Let the people hear
the voice calling in the desert.”
The messenger Mark is
referring to is one of the prophets, Malachi. In fact, that name
means ‘my messenger.’ So when we look to Malachi, we find out what
God is asking of us. “Now, I am sending ‘my messenger’ ahead of me to clear
the way. Suddenly, God, for whom you long, will enter the sanctuary to
bear witness against those who swear false oaths, those who oppress the
wage earner, the widow and the orphan, and those who do not respect the
rights of the foreigner.”
So if we’re going to
prepare the way of the Lord, we must heed these words of the prophet; the
prophet who bears witness against those who oppress the wage earner, the
widow and the orphan. In other words, those who take from the poor and
bring about oppression and injustice in the world.
And, at this time, as
we come close to the feast of Christmas, I think there’s a glaring presence
of a sign that we haven’t heard those words.
In fact, it’s written
in a strange place. This a an editorial from a secular newspaper printed
yesterday, The New York Times, speaking about what is happening in the
United States during this time before Christmas: On the shopping
streets and in the malls, the air is filled with a commercial frenzy that
falls like snow on passing consumers. The idea of Santa Claus had an almost
plausible coherence back in the days when Christmas gifts still bore the
unmistakable stamp of the handmade. But even a small child glimpses that
the Christmas season has now become, where shopping is concerned at least,
the great yearly festival of Corporate Earth. If anyone remembers the North
Pole anymore, it’s mainly as an offshore tax haven. Even the underlying
moral dynamic of the Santa story has been overturned. The crush of
consumers in the department stores, edging their way through the first
floor perfume mists, can seem more than a little off the point of the other
story that gets told this time of the year. In that story, charity is a
more all embracing concept than it tends to be in the mind of a last minute
shopper, hastening past the sound of a Salvation Army bell. Somehow, Christmas
seems a little stranger every year. The one time of the year when we should
be more than consumers turns out to be the one time of the year when we
act most like consumers.
Now isn’t it ironic that
a secular newspaper would be challenging us this way. It’s not only ironic,
it’s obviously so wrong. If we were listening to ‘my messenger,’ God’s
messenger, we would understand that what’s happening is so wrong in this
world. If you go into any of those malls and get caught up in those crowds,
you just become overwhelmed with the consumption that goes on in this country.
Yet, we live within a
community of disciples of Jesus, who claim that we follow a principle that
no one has a right to keep for his or her own use what is beyond their
needs when others lack the barest necessities. And, yet, we have so much
more that we need. We fall into the pattern of Christmas consumption, into
that pattern of overwhelming wealth when four-fifths of the people on the
planet are in desperate poverty.
Obviously, there’s something
tremendously wrong with this picture. God tells us, when he sends ‘my messenger,’
to witness against those who oppress the wage earner, the widow and the
orphan. God is witnessing against us because we have so much than we need,
than we have a right to. We just fall into that pattern of more and more
consumption, allowing Christmas to become the great yearly festival of
Corporate Earth instead of the feast of the poor Jesus, the Son of God,
who was born into this world to show us the way to make God’s reign happen.
And so like those who
were called by John the Baptist to be converted, we have to be converted.
And that is one of the ways in which we must change our lives in order
that the reign of God will break forth within my life.
But then another way
is what John the Baptist promises. He says to the people who come to him,
“Look, I baptize you with water, renew your covenant with God the God of
Sinai. But there will be one who will come who is stronger than I.
And that one, Jesus, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
And that’s the baptism
we must renew, our baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is symbolized for
us when Jesus himself came to John to be baptized. Remember what happened
as Jesus went down into the waters for baptism. The spirit of God appeared
in the form of a dove and Jesus heard God’s word, “Here is my servant,
my chosen one, in whom I am well pleased; the servant who does not take
up arms, cry aloud in the street; the servant who nurtures the bruised
reed and brings to fullness the faltering flame. That servant who rejects
violence, the servant who is filled with the spirit of God, which is a
spirit of love and peace, not violence.”
And here, too, don’t
we need extraordinary conversion? We live in a culture where violence is
so dominate. We live in a country that is rushing to war and so many of
us simply go along instead of saying no. We must be filled with that spirit
of Jesus so that God can say, “Here is my servant, my chosen one, in whom
I delight, who rejects violence, who rejects any kind of killing and only
proclaims the message of God’s love.”
It’s very important for
us to renew that gift of our baptism, that first coming of the Holy Spirit
upon us. When we do, not only will we be converted in a way that will enable
us to help make the reign of God happen in my life and to help to transform
our world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible, but we
will also receive very deeply the gift of peace that the Spirit can bring.
Yesterday, I had a confirmation
ceremony at a parish in Warren, Michigan. And you know that when I do confirmations
I get letters often from the children or teenagers, whoever they are who
are to be confirmed. And so I read through the letters from of all
these young people who were being confirmed yesterday. And one of them
especially impressed me. This young person seems to have a really deep
grasp of what it means to be re-baptized in the spirit, to have that renewal
of your baptismal gift through the Holy Spirit and what it can do for you.
She says in one part of her letter, “Deep in my heart, I know God will
always be with me, remembering this will help me to find peace within my
So as we commit ourselves
in this time of Advent to prepare for the reign of God, open ourselves
to conversion, conversion to a real simplicity of life, a conversion to
justice so that all people share in goods that God gave for all and not
for a few, and a conversion to a new coming of the Holy Spirit into us,
not only will we be helped to transform our world into the reign of God,
but each of us as this young teenager says, can know deep in our hearts
that peace of God which comes with the reign of God and which is the gift
of the Holy Spirit.
I hope then that all
of us will once more commit ourselves to enter into this season of Advent,
preparing for that time when the reign of God will happen and there will
be no more sadness, no more tears, no more suffering, but there will peace
and justice for all and a deep peace in the heart of each of us.
In the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.