By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 2nd Sunday of Advent - on the Gospel
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Receiving Christ with Joy

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

A newly ordained priest was sent to work as an assistant to an older priest. The young priest went to the older priest for some orientation and advice. "What should I preach about?" asked the young man. The reply he got was, "Preach about ten minutes." A few years ago I was in a parish in France for the summer and the only advice the parish priest gave me was to make my homilies and my Masses as short as possible because the people do not have much time. I complied. But my surprise came when a choral band came from England and performed Handel's Messiah. The performance took place in the same parish church and after three hours the people were still demanding an encore. I never saw the people more joyful in that church, never saw them more enthusiastic. Later, I asked the parish priest, "How came people can sit in one place for three hours or more and listen with joy to choral music but they cannot do the same when it comes to listening to the word of God at Mass?" There was no answer.

But I think I got my answer some years later from a friend, a teacher in a school of evangelization. In our discussion the question of why people do not hear the word of God with joy came up. What he said was very enlightening. He said that people need to have a personal experience of God in their lives before they can hear the word of God with joy. He said that proclaiming the word of God to people who do not know God in a personal way, and who do not have a personal relationship with God, is like reading poetry to people who do not know what poetry is all about. They get bored very easily and are in a hurry to leave. How can such people move from a situation of being bored by the word of God to a situation of joy and enthusiasm in hearing the word of God? Here John the Baptist gives us an example.

 As we read in today's gospel, "the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 3:2-3). In this short text we find the three steps necessary to transform anybody from lukewarmness to enthusiasm in the faith. The three steps are (a) John went into the desert, (b) the word of God came to him, and (c) John left the desert and went about proclaiming the faith. We also must pass through these three stages to arrive at the stage where we begin to live the life of faith with joy.

Stage 1- We go into the desert. The desert is a place of being alone with God. We go into the desert when we take time off our normal job and household occupation to be with God in church, in prayer, in reading the word of God. The desert is the place where we encounter God. We ourselves must take the first step to go into the desert, to reach out to God, to look for God.

Stage 2 - The word of God comes to us. Once we open our hearts to God in the desert, God Himself comes and fills us up. A saint once said that when we take one step to God, God takes two steps to us. At this stage God takes the initiative to come to us, to fill us, to renew us, to transform us, to remould us into God's image that we are created to be. This is the stage that some people call being born again. When this happens to us we would like to spend the whole day alone with God in church, in prayer, in Bible reading. But like John we must go on to live our lives and carry out our duties in the family and in the society.

Stage 3 - We go about proclaiming the faith. Having experienced the goodness of the Lord in our own lives, our next desire is to share this experience with others. It's like we are wearing a tee-shirt with the inscription, "Wow, God is great!" People look at us and see the joy and peace and serenity that radiates from us and they would like to be like us. They would like to be our friends. And then we can in turn help them by showing them the pathway to the desert, the place where they, in their turn, will encounter God personally. The experience of God is like the experience of love. You can tell people about it but they will not understand what you are talking about until they themselves experience it.

 In the opening prayer for this Mass we said, "God of power and mercy, open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy." In order for this to happen, we must resolve, in this season of advent, to take the first step, to make room for God, make time for church, for prayer, for hearing the word of God.

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