Tomorrow is the Third Sunday of Advent. The following is a homily I delivered at St. Pius X Parish, Indianapolis on the Third Sunday in Advent in 2014.
It is fitting that during the Advent season, during this time of preparation, that we hear the voices of Isaiah, Paul, and John the Baptist.
Isaiah brought “glad tidings to the poor” and foretold of a time when the Lord God will “make justice and peace spring up before all the nations.” Help is on the way.
It was also Isaiah who prophesied about a voice of one crying out in the desert. We know now that the voice to which he was referring was that of John the Baptist.
John’s entire message was that of preparation for the one who was to come after him, the One whose sandal strap he was not worthy to untie. He called the people to make straight the path. John was there to “testify to the light.” Help is on the way.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, another voice crying out, was also about preparation: Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks. Refrain from every kind of evil. He echoed John the Baptist’s call to make straight the path. Help is on the way.
These voices are crying out to us to be prepared. We prepare for the day Isaiah spoke of when he said: “As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.” With all that is going on in this world, “justice and praise springing up before all the nations” sounds pretty good.
I don’t normally challenge God, but when I studied this passage I thought, “We get it, help is on the way. But it’s 2014. Isaiah said this 2800 years ago. God, what are You waiting for?”
I remember having a meeting with my administrative assistant, Cathy, several years ago. We met each week to look ahead on the school calendar and talk through all the work that needed to be done to prepare for upcoming events.
The calendar was loaded, so for that particular meeting there was a long list of things to do. I remember reading through the list we had compiled, and saying something like this to Cathy: “I need to get a memo out to the teachers about next week. I need to contact the grade school principals and get their input. I need to confirm that the gym is reserved for the assembly. I need to set a meeting with the department chairs.”
And I looked at Cathy and added, “And of course when I say ‘I’, I mean you.”
Back to my challenge: God, what are you waiting for? Why is justice and praise not springing up yet? God might well respond:“I will make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.” And He will look at me and add, “Of course when I say ‘I’, I mean you.
What’s God waiting for? He’s waiting for us! He is waiting for us to commit. We are part of God’s team and He needs all of us, expects all of us, to join in His work.
The thought of helping with God’s work is intimidating. It is especially intimidating if you operate under the assumption that God is up there and we’re down here working in isolation. But that is not the case – John the Baptist tells us: “There is one among you that you do not recognize.”
If we recognize that Jesus is right here with us, working with us side-by-side, it should not be intimidating at all. It should be energizing.
So what does committing to God’s work look like? Where do we begin? Maybe we begin with the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians: “Pray without ceasing.”
That is certainly a lofty and admirable goal, but not very practical. It is not practical, not even possible, if we only think of prayer in the traditional sense – kneel down, fold our hands, and recite words of prayer committed to memory back in grade school. We can’t do that without ceasing – or at least I know I can’t.
So we must expand our definition of prayer to include living a prayerful life. What we can do is live life with a prayerful disposition, with a prayerful spirit.
In this week’s edition of The Criterion newspaper, Archbishop Tobin offered four suggestions on preparing for Christmas that speak to the idea of living a prayerful life:
- Set quiet time aside for prayer – I may not be able to pray without ceasing, but I can spare a few minutes of alone time with God
- Go to confession – wipe the slate clean and start anew, filled with God’s grace. In Fr. Jim’s letter in the bulletin, he lists several opportunities to go to confession over the next week.
- Be more faithful, and attentive, to our Mass attendance. Mass is a beautiful reminder that God is with us. It allows us to better recognize His presence in our lives.
- Give spiritual gifts – a smile, a kind word, or a helping hand to those in need.
God wants us to seek Him out. He wants us to engage with Him, to maintain an ongoing dialogue. What we do in our daily lives should be about Him and for Him, about others and for others. I can’t kneel, fold my hands, and recite words of prayer without ceasing, but I can live a life that glorifies God. I can seek Him out and be about His business.
Today’s readings are not included in the Advent season by chance. They speak to what Advent calls us to do – prepare the way of the Lord.
Do His work. Seek Him out. Be about His business.
In so doing, we will have prepared the way for Him.
God feels welcomed in such a world; He feels invited.
Help is on the way.