2nd Sunday of Advent A

I know what you are all thinking.  This is my first Sunday homily since I turned fifty.  He should be a lot wiser than before.  Don’t worry, I have the same expectation for myself.  And I really think that I have made some progress.  I have become much more efficient in how I sin.  You see, when I was young, I thought there were many ways to sin.  This action and that action were so numerous that they could not be counted.  As I got a little older, I realized that while many actions constituted sin, they all sprung from a few motivations.  Things such as pride, jealousy, self-hatred, anger and vengeance is how we sin.  But now I have it down to one way to sin and I am going to teach it to you.  You’re welcome.

First off, let me be clear.  There is never a reason to sin.  Did you hear the first reading?   “Comfort, give comfort to my people.”  The prophet Isaiah exults that our service is at end, our guilt has been expiated and the glory of the Lord has been revealed.  We cry out from the roof tops the good news of our God who has come to save us.  We hear of John the Baptist who preached of one greater than him coming.  His sole purpose was to forgive sins and do whatever else was required to prepare the way of the Lord.  His mission echoed the words of Isaiah, “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.”  Nothing should prevent the Lord from coming to us. But ultimately we have a better reason not to sin.  The incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Because he came to show us how to live, we cannot claim we do not know the way.  Because he has given us his Holy Spirit, we cannot claim we are powerless.  Because he loved us, we cannot claim to not have enough love to share.  Knowing we are powerful, blessed and loved, you would think it would be impossible to sin. But as I said, I have an easy one step plan.  It is even able to overcome all that grace.

All you have to do to sin, even in the light of God’s never ending love, is to have a better plan for you that God does.  That’s it. You simply decide what you deserve, what you should have, and get it.  You take what has not been given to you, you choose what has not been chosen for you and you go where God has not led you.  And you begin to build a mountain.  A mountain of your own making and you like it because you are king of this mountain. You might be a little lonely here, so you try to get others to come up your mountain.  Aren’t I right?  Isn’t this the way it should be?  Isn’t this what we deserve?  And some may agree with you but you can’t join others for that means leaving your own mountain.

Yet, the problem with the mountain is that is isolating.  We are separated from those striving for a common goal of relationship with God and with one another.  This why the crooked ways were made straight, the valleys filled in, the rough ways made smooth and the mountains made low.  Every time I choose my plan over God’s plan, my way over the way God has given to me, every time I desire the more that is not rightly mine, I make my mountain ever larger.  I have disrupted the easy terrain with my mountain.  I have found way to keep others away and created an obstacle to my God that had already been cleared.

How can we know if our mountain is separating us from God’s love?  We can turn to our theme for an answer.  As the Peace Prayer states, “O Divine Master grant that I may never seek, so much to be consoled as much to be console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love with all my soul.  Our mountains are made up of the cry, where is my consolation?  We only care to be understood rather than taking the time to listen so that we might understand.  We only want to be loved rather than taking the risk and the sacrifice to love others.  Of this is our mountain made.

And what happens us to individually, happens to us as a society.  Look at the protests going on in our cities after too may tragedies.  Have you ever seen a more clear case of people trying to be understood rather than to understand?  People screaming they are right from the top of their mountains when the only place reconciliation is possible is on the plain where all can gather?   Only there can we feel, the fear, the longing for justice and the heartbreak.  Only there can we actually listen.  Only when we stand on common ground can we find peace.

How do we lower this mountain?  When I teach parents baptismal prep, I note that we anoint the children with the oil of catechumens.  A catechumen is someone preparing for baptism and their child is to be baptized in about four and a half minutes. So why do we bother?  Well, I think we are all catechumens at some level, striving to complete our baptisms.  After all, if I really understood how God has blessed me, how beautiful I have been made and how loved I am, I would not even think of sinning; I would not add another rock to my mountain in the midst of the plain.

So let us be the beautiful people of God endowed with astounding and uncontestable dignity.  Let us come off our mountains so that we might walk the way we were meant to walk, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand in peace and care for one another.  Let us surrender to the God who has made all things good and trust in what God has prepared rather than what we want.  Let us stride together as one body of Christ on that long, smooth, straight broad valley won for us by the Lord Jesus.  Let every stride made together take us to the peace that we were meant for, the love which never ends.

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