2nd Sunday of Advent – Cycle A (Mt 3:1-12)

For those of us who have heard Frank Sinatra’s iconic rendition of ‘My Way’ we no doubt can recall the line “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention” and only wished that was the case for us. For most of us, at least for those who have lived more than a few years, there are at minimum one or two events in our lives that we would love to ‘do over’ or have the chance to try again. Unfortunately, life is not like that. Life is a one-way street and there is no reverse button for us to push. Once lived, we cannot relive the moment, but we can reconsider our past and change the direction going forward.

Peaceable Kingdom

Peaceable Kingdom

In today’s Gospel, we hear John the Baptist scolding the Pharisees and the Sadducees for their pride and arrogance. He tells them, and us, to “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” [Mt 3:8]. Matthew used the Greek word μετάνόος (metánoia) in a rather nuanced way, that is instead of repentance, he used it to mean “to think life over again,” that is, to reflect upon what we have done in the past and to make all the appropriate and necessary changes to what remains of our life here on earth. John was therefore telling those who came to be baptized that they must, in addition to acknowledging their sins, change their lives in significant and positive ways; words without actions will not be enough.

No matter where we are in our lives, there is always room for improvement. Fr. J. Patrick Mullen says that that kind of repentance calls:

  • for the sinner to think their life over, and stop sinning,
  • for the one who is no longer sinning, but is doing no good either, to begin to live a meritorious life.
  • and for the one who is engaged and holy to become saintly.

He goes on to say “In effect, John’s invitation is for all of us to think our lives over and take the next step in our spiritual growth, wherever we are on the spectrum of the Christian life.”

It would be interesting to place ourselves in the crowd, listening to John, and longing to be baptized. It would perhaps be even more interesting to bring John into our lives today. What would we think of him? How would we react to his message? John is described as a crusty old soul, who lived in the desert, wore dirty ragged clothes made from camel’s hair, and ate bugs dipped in honey. Not so different from some of those we encounter wandering the streets these days. How do we react when we encounter them? Do we suddenly have a compelling and irresistible urge to confess our sins and ask for forgiveness from those on the street? Somehow, I sincerely doubt that.

The problem for many of us is that we have become very judgmental, constantly judging others by their words, their actions, and their appearance. We forget that we cannot see what lies within the human heart and that judgment is reserved for God alone. We are reminded of this in the first reading when Isaiah says that when He comes “Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice” [Is 11:3-4].

We are reminded that we can always count on God’s forgiveness, but we must do more, we must act, we must “produce good fruit as evidence of our repentance.” When we look around us it is easy to see all of the gifts that God has given us, our lives, our world, the scenic beauty that surrounds us. Katherine Lee Bates once took in the wondrous beauty of the world from the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado and wrote the song ‘America the Beautiful’ in gratitude for the spacious skies, the amber waves of grain, the purple mountain majesties, and the fruited plain that God had created and given to us. I myself have often sat near the shores of Lake Tahoe, gazed into the deep blue waters, the even deeper blue skies, and the rugged mountains and remarked as to how you cannot get much closer to heaven than there.

Father John Foley, SJ writes “You and I do very little to deserve the mysterious goodness around us and in us. In fact, we definitely have not earned it. God gives it all out of pure generosity and love. God gazes in wonder at the world and each person in it, and says, ‘You are worth it. I am glad you are here.’”

We must recognize that we are not the center of the universe, we do not control everything around us, but God is and God does. In the grand scheme of things, we are very small, but smallness is a gift. In different ways we are all poor and as Fr. John Foley says, “the God, who takes joy in small things does defend us poor ones from the wrongs of life. But he does not erase trouble, he loves us within it.”

Many of us, like the Pharisees, go through the motions, say all the right things, but do nothing to produce good fruit as evidence of our repentance. We restrict God to only some small portion of our lives, ignoring Him for the rest of it. We resist change, we refuse to transform our relationships with our families and friends, we hold fast to our ideologies and our attitudes toward our enemies. We restrict the entry of God into our lives and limit the power of God’s grace. When we wonder why our lives are going nowhere, why there is little meaning in our lives, we conveniently forget to seek God’s love and grace.

In one of his sermons, St. Augustine said

Today, for those who will not repent at the approach of the kingdom of heaven, the reproof of the Lord Jesus is the same. As he points out himself, “You cannot expect to see the kingdom of heaven coming. The kingdom of heaven,” he says elsewhere, “is within you (Lk 17:21).”

Each of us would be wise therefore to take to heart the advice of his teacher, and not waste this present time.

It is now that our Savior offers us his mercy; now, while he still spares the human race. Understand that it is in hope of our conversion that he spares us, for he desires no one’s damnation.

As for when the end of the world will be, that is God’s concern. Now is the time for faith.”

In this season, while we wait for His coming, we should take pause from our daily lives, discover the good that lies within, and find its expression and meaning in offering ourselves to the benefit of others; we must take action to produce good fruit as evidence of our repentance. We must take stock of what we have produced so far and think our life over, again. Amen.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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