Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Advent

Readings: Is 11:1-10; Rm 15:4-9; Mt 3:1-12

In last Sunday’s homily I reflected on the need to "get back to the basics" in evaluating our practice of Christian faith. Advent is a good time to begin that process. Let’s take that a step further this Sunday and explore what is meant by "repentance" in today’s gospel passage. Those are ringing words from John the Baptist: "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand."

In its most general sense "repentance" includes two dimensions: one, a change in one’s outward behavior, and two, a change in one’s mind that impels a change in behavior. The two go hand-in-hand. We change our motives in order to change our actions. In our more common language, "repent" would mean something like, "Get your act together." Now, those aren’t words that we like to hear from a boss or a religious superior: "You need to get your act together." Even less do we want to hear them from God. However, that’s exactly what they mean in the mouth of John the Baptist. "It’s time to get your act together."

Let’s think about this a little more closely. Most of the time, unless we are a sociopath or have a criminal mind, we want to do things and live our lives in a reasoned, orderly way for our own benefit and the benefit of others. However, when times get really rushed and we begin to be stressed out most of the time, our life and actions can tend to get "loose around the edges." We cut corners to get more things into the day. We can start doing things just in reaction to someone’s else example or words without really thinking about the consequences. If we are honest, we know that in terms of religious behavior, it’s very easy for regular practices of prayer, self-control and virtuous behavior to get whittled down in the hectic pace of life. That’s especially true during the Christmas season, at least the way we observe it in this country. December can become really frantic at times. That just hastens the cutting of corners on just about everything and reacting impulsively to other’s words and actions. That’s when life become loose around the edges.

So in this Advent season we hear the clear challenge from John the Baptist: "Repent" or "Get your act together." How do we go about doing that? Well, the first thing—hard as it may be—is to slow down and give ourselves some time to do a bit of calm reflection. In that space of calm reflection we need to review our recent behaviors and actions and see if they really measure up to the kind of person we want to be. Did I really want to engage in that critical conversation that ripped apart another community member or did I just fall into it on the spur of the moment and then went along with it? Did that behavior really express who I am and the type of person I want to be? It’s that kind of self-evaluation that is the beginning of "getting our act together."

Sometime when we hear those words, "Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand," they can seem so alien to our everyday lives that they don’t make much impression on us. But they really do challenge us to explore the connections between our actions, our motives, and who we want to be. That kind of thinking is religious of its very nature. Listen to some words of Lawrence Kushner that sum up that point very nicely: " The essence of spirituality is a return to the self, a re-direction of vision of the one who asks the question, a discovery that what is sought is, and always has been, right here all along. Spirituality is personal immediacy and (at the same time) the immediacy of God’s Presence." (Eyes Remade for Wonder, p. 153) "Repent! or "Getting your act together!" They bring us face to face with the Living God. They are the examination of the close connection between motives, actions and hopes in our daily lives. That’s what we are called to do in this season of Advent.

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