Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Second Sunday of Advent, Year A
December 9, 2001
Is11:1-10; Rom15:4-9; Mt 3:1-12
1) This Sunday’s liturgy makes us hear the voice of the two greatest Advent preachers: Isaiah and St. John the Baptist. Isaiah preached the Advent or coming of the Lord from afar. His prophecy nourished the hopes of generations: “Behold a virgin will conceive and bear a son and shall call him, Emmanuel, for God is with us.” St. John the Baptist was the one who announced the imminent Advent of the Lord, saying “One is coming after me the thong of whose sandal I’m not worthy to untie.” Between the two precursors, there is a tight bond, that given in the prophecy of Isaiah that St. Matthew applies to St. John the Baptist: “Behold, a voice crying out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths!”
2) Every Advent has its precursor, the herald who prepares souls, calls everyone to attention, so that the one who is coming might be expected, desired and welcomed, and so that the people may notice the one who is coming when he arrives. In the olden days, when a famous person (generally a king or an emperor) was coming to a city on an official visit, messengers would be sent ahead to invite the population to go out to meet him, to repair the roads and bridges and even make new ones so that he might arrive without delay and without difficulty. There were precursors for the first Coming of the Lord, Isaiah, all the prophets, St. John the Baptist, even the Star of Bethlehem. There will be precursors for his Second Coming at the end of time (as Jesus himself says, the moon, the stars, the signs in heaven). But there is a another coming that we prepare ourselves for every Advent. We prepare ourselves not just his coming in Nazareth or his coming at the end of time or at the end of our lives (whichever comes first), but for the many ways Christ comes to us every day, especially in the Eucharist and the sacraments. This coming of Christ in the present moment, to the Church and to believers, forms the link between the historical coming of the Redeemer and the coming we await in the future. Now, every day, in our lives, Jesus comes personally to each person through the sacraments, through his Word, through his love, through his grace, through the events of the world. This is the coming for which we must go out to meet him every day, with our response to his goodness, and with our decision to follow him, wherever he comes and goes.
3) And for this continual coming, which is very often silent, Jesus has need of precursors, heralds to announce his coming. And all of us, by our baptism and confirmation, have been consecrated to carry out this role. Jesus went to John and sanctified him from the beginning in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, because he would later be his indomitable herald. The same Lord has chosen us, has redeemed and sanctified us, at the beginning of our lives in the womb of our mother, the Church, (which is the baptismal font), so that we might be his precursors or witnesses in the world, so that we might smooth out his paths and prepare others for his coming.
4) St. John the Baptist, his precursor par excellence, will help us to understand how we can and should be precursors of Jesus. The Gospel that we just heard begins in the following way: “In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” That is what we also have to say to the world: the kingdom of God is near. We need to precise this message, as Jesus did after John, “The Kingdom of God is among you,” it’s already here in the world. The most important thing is not waiting for the kingdom of God and preparing oneself for it, but entering it, even at the cost of sacrifices and renunciations, as John did.
5) Proclaiming St. John’s mission at the moment of his birth, his father Zechariah, sang in the Benedictus, “You, my child, will be called Prophet of the Most High; you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins through the tender mercy of God.” To those who asked him, “Who are you?,” John replied, “I am the voice of one crying out…” The life of John was to be a voice to cry out to his contemporaries this marvelous news of salvation through the remission of sins. “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.” He was burning to present Jesus, to make others desire him, to raise up their longing for him and the recognition of how much they need him. “After me,” he said, “is coming one who is greater than I. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit.” The herald is the “friend of the bridegroom,” who lives completely for him. And when the spouse makes his entrance, he pulls back, he disappears, so that others may hear only the bridegroom. “He must increase; I must decrease.” The voice shuts up and is quiet after it has given forth the Word; the friend of the bridegroom pulls back at the arrival of the Bridegroom: “I am not worthy to untie the thongs of his sandles.”
6) St. Augustine explained very well the role of a voice: it serves to transmit the word, and, with the word, the idea which is formed inside of me. When this word has entered into the heart of another, when it is communicated to another, the voice ceases, it shuts up. It’s the same thing with a precursor: when the Word, who is Christ, makes his appearance, the precursor pulls back. The precursor’s presence would be from then on a distraction. The precursor has to know how to pull back at the appropriate time; he should never permit others to attach themselves to him, to stop at him, knowing that he is the savior of no one.
7) This Christian duty of being a precursor, of being a voice for Christ, is a wonderful calling. We give to the world the knowledge, or better, the certainy, of salvation. We say to men, “In your midst there is one whom you do not know,” one for whom you are searching, who can make you happy, one who will never deceive you, the only one who has the words of eternal life.
8 ) Are we called to be precursors, to preach, to cry out like John the Baptist, “Repent! Reform your lives! The kingdom of God is at hand!”? Yes, we are all called to preach that Gospel, but not necessarily all of us with words. Before we are ready to preach to others conversion and penance, we ourselves have to be converted and do penance. John, before he preached at the Jordan river, himself “lived” in silence in the desert for several years. He prepared the ways of the Lord in himself first, he made straight the path of the Lord to his heart first, before he exhorted others to do the same. As St. Luke says, “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he lived in solitude in the desert until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” This is the same thing that Jesus himself did, going into the desert for 40 days before he began his public ministry. We, too, before we begin to preach to others, we need to live what we are about to preach. We have to, above all, be converted ourselves before speaking to others the necessity of conversion.
9) The most beautiful moment in the life of the precursor was when he encountered the Master, when he saw him coming toward him at the Jordan and shouted out, “Behold the Lamb of God! Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world! Behold the One of whom I was speaking!” For us, too, this encounter is about to happen. At Communion, we will welcome him with the same words of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God.” May the Lord fill our hearts with joy and courage so that we might be able to be his precursors in the world.