Homily for Second Sunday of Advent

December 9, 2001

St. Agnes Church, Cincinnati

(Based on Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,12-13,17; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12)

We began out Advent reflections last week hearing the call to awaken from our sleep and be alert to the hour of the Lord. And we heard the promise that the Lord will judge all the nations and lead them to change their ways and give up the sword.

And today we are presented with this wild wilderness preacher John the Baptizer. You have to admit, he's really a bizarre figure, with his strange clothing and ways. But paradoxically, he must have been also very attractive or at least intriguing, because we read how all the people from a large surrounding area were coming down to the river to hear him and receive his baptism. Including, remember, Jesus -- who in the passage immediately following the one we read today comes forward to ask John to baptize him.

And what does John have to say to them? He lashes out at the pious people, the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Luke has him addressing his strong language to the people in general, without distinction.) For what? For presuming on God's favor. For taking God for granted. For using God for their own agendas. Do you think God is on your side just because you are children of Abraham? I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these very stones.

If we might imagine John preaching today, who might he be preaching to? And what might he be saying?

He might be addressing the Muslims and saying, "Do you Muslims think that because you have Mohammed and the Koran that God is on your side and you can kill thousands of innocent people? God can raise up children to Mohammed from these stones.

Or maybe he's addressing the Israelis: "Do you think that because you have Moses and the Torah God is on your side automatically and you can displace innocent Palestinians from their homes and kill them? God can raise up children to Moses from these stones."

Or maybe he's talking to the Palestinians: "Do you think that just because you are oppressed -- as indeed you are --and God will surely be on your side? even when you blow up busses in the heart of Jerusalem and kill innocent bystanders? God can raise up holy Palestinians from these stones."

Or might he be addressing us Americans? "Do you think, because you have the Statue of Liberty and sing 'God Bless America' and wave the flag, that God is automatically on your side no matter what measures you take in response to the terror you have experiences, measures that kill innocent people and swell the tide of refugees? God can raise up children to Jefferson and Madison from these stones."

And we good Catholics? Surely God must be one our side -- we go to church! -- no matter what violence we do to one another in the name of the faith? God can raise up holy Christians from these stones."

Was our God engaged in the events at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? You bet. Our God is always engaged, always about the work of transforming us into the people God wants to take delight in.

But we -- all of us -- are always at risk of using God for our purposes, making God exist for us, making God an instrument. You know, when we think of 'idols' we probably think of some small statue of wood or stone which 'pagans' worshiped. We need to be reminded that we can make of the living God an idol, if we turn God into our creation to satisfy our need.

What are we to learn from September 11?

Just think of that great initial rush of people to churches that week and on the next few Sundays. People got religion! Life was painful and we needed God to console and comfort us. But all the indications are that things have gotten back to 'normal' and we don't need God as much as it appeared.

What are the voices telling us what September 11 might have been telling us?

Pat Robertson tells us that the attacks were God's way of punishing us. But notice, it's only for the sins he loves to focus on: the sins of the flesh, of sex. There's not indication in his thinking that there might be punishment for our greed. You won't hear him talk about the managers of one of our grandest corporations, Enron, who flat-out lied and cheated and manipulated their books to defraud thousands of their employees and shareholders of their jobs and their pensions, their very livelihood. I guess that's just 'collateral damage'.

Another voice: Our attorney general says that what we should learn is that anyone who dares to criticize the policies of our government is unpatriotic. Is that what we are supposed to learn, that our government is infallible and always right? I don't think so.

And our president tells us that our response should be to got out and buy! More things! Consume more to keep our economy going -- when we 6% of the world's population are already consuming over 80% of its resources? Become more consumerist than we already are? I don't think so.

Then what are we supposed to be learning from this experience? I think there are some lines of the answer in the other readings for today, in Isaiah and the Psalm and Romans.

They are about justice and about the poor. "He shall judge the poor with justice and decide aright for the land's afflicted; he shall have pity on the lowly and the poor.

And they're about inclusion and welcoming and accepting. "Accept one another as Christ has accepted you." He says there will be "No harm or ruin on all my mountain". He's talking to Israel about all the nations, the whole world. The branch of Jesse will be a "signal for the nations"; the Gentile outsiders shall seek it out..

Christmas is about the kindness and graciousness of our God. But it's also about the freedom of our God and the expansiveness of our God. Of God's freedom to bestow grace and favor on whom God chooses.

As we receive Eucharist today at the Lord's banquet table let's pray that we receive it as pure gift, not God's debt to us. Let's pray that God will widen our hearts and make them as wide as God's own heart, that we may become a welcoming people to all of God's children. That we may be a voice for all those who are excluded from sharing in this earth's bounty with God's family.