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Thursday, 3 December 2015

Homily for 2nd Sunday of Advent Year C by Fr. Munachi Ezeogu CSSp

Baruch 5:1-9, Philippians 1:3-6, 8-11, Luke 3:1-6

-          On the First Reading – Let the Celebration Begin 

The colour purple is the colour of Advent. Unfortunately, purple is also the colour for Lent. This makes us sometimes to think of Advent as a kind of Lenten season. But Advent is very different from Lent. Whereas Lent is marked by penitence, sorrow and self-denial, Advent is a time of glorying in the Lord and rejoicing in the Lord. It is a time the people of God are invited and even commanded to look good and feel good in the Lord. This is the message of today’s first reading from the prophet Baruch.

Baruch was prophet at a time when Israel was at the lowest point in their existence as a nation. The nation had been reduced to a shadow of itself with the Babylonian and Assyrian conquests and deportations. Anybody who was somebody was sent into exile. The Temple in Jerusalem, the visible sign of their faith and commitment to God, was ransacked and destroyed. Both those who were deported and those who were left behind lived their lives in lamentation, sorrow and mourning. Humanly speaking, there was no hope ever of a national revival or restoration. Then comes the prophet Baruch, equipped with only one thing, the word of God. And this is the message he had for the people of God:

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. 2 Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting (Baruch 5:1-2).
First, God told them to change their appearance. They should take off their mourning clothes and put on celebration attire. In other words, they should look good. Why is that important? Because what we wear reflects and affects how we feel about life. Secondly, it affects everyone else around us. The contagious joy of Christmas is partly explained by the fact that everyone is beautifully dressed, and this rubs off on everyone else. One reason why the philosopher Nietzsche could not accept the gospel message of salvation was because the Christians of his day who claimed to be saved did not look like people who were saved. “If these Christians want me to believe in their God,” be said, “they’ll have to sing better songs, they’ll have to look more like people who have been saved, they’ll have to wear on their countenance the joy of the beatitudes.”

But why would the Israelites dress up and celebrate when nothing had changed on the ground? Their nation was still under a crushing oppression from the Assyrians, their kings, priests and leaders were all in exile and there was no sign of a return. How can you sing and dance with such a heavy cross on your back? The prophet Baruch tells them why. It is not because the situation has changed but believe we stand on God’s promise that it will change. “For God will show your splendour everywhere under heaven. 4 For God will give you evermore the name, ‘Righteous Peace, Godly Glory’" (Baruch 5:3-4).

Like us today, the people of Israel to whom Baruch preached were living in an Advent time. It was a time of waiting for the coming salvation that God had promised. Baruch tells us that this waiting has to be done not with sorrowing and trepidation but with rejoicing and celebration. We should not postpone our celebration till the time when God makes good on His promises, as if we are doubting God. The word of God challenges us to let the celebration begin. Anyone can rejoice and celebrate when the conditions are right. The people of God rejoice and celebrate before the condition changes because we know that when God gives you a cheque it will never bounce.

Yes, like the people of Israel to whom Baruch preached, there is little to celebrate when we look at the world in which we live today. Evil seems to be multiplying more than righteousness. There is injustice and corruption everywhere you look. Atheism seems to be the fastest growing “religion” in the world. Lies seem to be more politically correct and acceptable than the gospel truth. Even the church itself is in a whole lot of mess. The situation, like that of the time of Baruch, looks depressing. But we are challenged to live in a depressing world without being depressed. Not because we are super-men and women but because the joy of the Lord is our strength.

The Pope has declared this liturgical year as the Year of Faith. It is the year for us to rediscover, live and share our faith. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for us as men and women of faith is to live positive and cheerful lives, the conditions in which we find ourselves notwithstanding. We need to prove to ourselves and to the world that our joy does not depend on what we eat and drink. In some religious communities the time to come together for a drink is called Happy Hour. We need to show the world that for us every hour is a happy hour because the source of our happiness is God who promises us that everything will be all right because it is He Himself who is coming to set everything right again.

-          On the Epistle – The Joy of the Lord is our Strenght

Christmas is only three weeks away. Hospital workers report that hospital wards are practically empty at Christmas time. No one wants to spend Christmas in hospital. Much less in jail. Christmas is a time of joy and there is no fun in the hospital bed or the prison cell. Yet Paul’s most cheerful letter to the Philippians was written from a prison cell. Paul was in detention in Rome awaiting trial. Neither the uncomfortable conditions in the prison cell nor the uncertainty of the outcome of the trial was enough to rob Paul of his joyful and cheerful disposition. What was the secret of Paul’s unflagging optimism? No doubt it was his faith in Christ. This faith expressed itself in two important attitudes: an attitude of gratitude in regard to the past, and an attitude of confidence in regard to the future. This was the key to Paul’s cheerfulness even in the face of present predicament.

We often talk about the virtue of living in the present. But what do we mean by “the present?” Is it this year, this week, this day, or this minute? The fact of the matter is that the present is a fleeting split-second such that before we get to think of it or mention it, is already passed into the past. We cannot freeze the present in order to live in it because the present is always passing us by. Maybe it is better to think of the present as the meeting point between the past and the future. Then we shall begin to realize that the way to seize the moment and discover happiness in the present is to cultivate a positive attitude toward the past and toward the future.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul did not focus on the present chains of his imprisonment but on the happy memories of his relationship with the Philippians, and on the glorious future of the day of the Lord. This might explain why this letter is the most joyful of all his letters. The opening section of the letter, which we have in today’s second reading, illustrates this secret to Paul’s positive mindset.

Gratitude for the Past

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5)

Even though Paul finds himself presently in very unenviable circumstances, yet he chooses to begin his letter on a note of gratitude for the past. The Philippians had contributed generously in his ministry of spreading the gospel. They were not just his spiritual children but his partners in ministry, and for this Paul thanks God and prays constantly with joy for them. An attitude of gratitude for the past puts a smile on our faces, no matter what we may be going through today.
Confidence in the Future

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

Paul looks to the future with confidence. His confidence is anchored not in the faithfulness of the Philippians but in the faithfulness of God. God is faithful, and God who began a good work in the church of Philippi will bring it to a glorious completion. Many people think of the Last Day and the Last Judgment with fear and anxiety. Paul thinks of it with confident expectation as the Day when God will bring to completion the good work of faith that He is doing among us.

The present is nothing but the meeting point of the past and the future. If, like Paul, we cultivate the attitude of looking to the past with gratitude and to the future with confidence, then we shall know the joy of the Lord. This is the inner joy which made the early Christians sing even as they were being marched to death by their persecutors. One such example is Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, who, as he was facing death in the year 248, wrote the following words to his friend Donatus:

It is really a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. Yet in the midst of it, I have found a quiet and holy people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of this sinful life. They are despised and persecuted but they care not, These people, Donatus, are Christians and I am one of them."

The joy of the Lord was the strength of the martyrs. May the same joy of the Lord be our strength today as we face the challenges of witnessing to the goodness of the Lord even in our very bad world.

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