December 10, 2017

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2017, Year B

Saint John the Baptist

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut


We read today in 2 Peter, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.” This salutary but unsettling reminder of what is to come makes me think of one of the “Holy Sonnets” of the 17th century poet and essayist John Donne. It begins with the words: “What if this present were the world’s last night?”

“What if?” indeed! If we knew we had such little time, how would we spend it? Rush to the nearest confessional? Seek out the people we love most? Just cower in fear?

The poet is not afraid. He invites his soul to look into his heart and see there the image of Christ crucified, which for him is beautiful and offers him assurance of mercy.

We should note that St. Peter’s imagery is not simply about destruction. He follows immediately with this: “But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

Similarly Isaiah, who is quoted in Mark’s, is not suggesting that valleys be filled in and mountains be made low in a destructive way. The point is to make a straight, direct route for God to come to his people. Anyone living in a mountainous area knows how travel times can be doubled and tripled by winding roads.

John the Baptist is “the voice” calling for the straight path. There are many singers and actors famous for their voice. John is famous for his voice, but in a different way. He is the herald, not drawing attention to himself but to the one who is to come after him.

Have you ever had the experience of imagining what someone looks like, based only on the sound of his or her voice? I once was curious enough to search the Internet for a picture of Steve Zirnkilton, whose voice introduces every episode of all three Law & Order series on television (“In the criminal justice system...,” etc.). I was surprised and amused to see how far off I was! His appearance seemed so unlikely to me.

There are prophetic voices around us even today, calling us to fill in valleys and make mountains low. Often they are unlikely prophets, hard for us to recognize.

Mountains and valleys constitute obstacles. The valleys and mountains of Isaiah are not the physical ones that would require engineers to level out. The ups and downs and winding roads are in the “wasteland” that our hearts can sometimes be. Mountains of self-importance, of greed, of whatever makes us think we are above the human condition. Ravines of jealousy, of self-pity, of whatever drags us down and stifles hope. We all have them at times, and in an infinite variety of forms.

Maybe there is an unlikely prophet, a voice crying in our desert, to help us.

Be that as it may the question remains: How can I, how can you, make a straight path for the Lord into our lives and hearts? How can we prepare for the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”?

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