HOMILY for Second Sunday of Advent (A)
“O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!”
These words by Francis Thompson are the words of a broad-minded man; they are the words of a poet, a Christian, a Catholic. They are the words of someone who sees, like St John the Baptist, that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2). Indeed, it is already here, and it is so close that he can view it, touch it, know it, and clutch it. Can you? Can I?
When the Baptizer appears on the scene he says “Repent”. The problem with this word is that we hear it and we immediately think it’s a call for us to be good and stop sinning – a bit like that popular jingle: “You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town”. It’s rather threatening, when you think about it… And we can tend to think of St John the Baptist like this too – he’s warning us to be good because Jesus Christ is coming to town. In fact, Advent itself can become a threat: “You’d better watch out, you’d better start shopping, you’d better start wrapping those presents and prepping: Christmas is just 17 days’ away!”
But what does the Baptizer, or rather St Matthew, actually say? He says: metanoiete. Which literally means to go beyond your current ways of thinking. In effect, then, St John the Baptist says: “Broaden your minds, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. That word, translated as ‘repent’, is actually an invitation for us to become more free; to open our eyes to view; reach out our hands to touch; open our minds to know that God, our Liberator, is active and present on earth; that he comes to us daily in ways so ordinary that we often miss them.
Advent, then, is a time to see the divine beauty in the ordinary; to broaden our human horizons so that we are inspired by the divine imagination. Consider what happens when we bring a tree into our homes and festoon it with lights and hang baubles on it. It helps us to see just how wonderful and beautiful God’s creation is. The decorations make visible the glory and marvel of all created things because they receive the wonder of their being from God – “O world invisible, we view thee!” Or when we give one another presents, wrapped up, or write one another greetings on special cards. In the giving and receiving, we make tangible the bonds of friendship and love that we share – “O world intangible, we touch thee!” And the carols we sing, often quite enthusiastically, gives voice to the Christian story. Suddenly, every one, even professed atheists, becomes a preacher of the revelation of God’s love made visible at Christmas – “O world unknowable, we know thee!” As such, faith broadens our horizons, frees us from the narrow-mindedness of the modern secular mindset, and makes possible a more beautiful and harmonious world such as Isaiah describes in the first reading.
But Isaiah seems to be speaking about a distant future. And St John the Baptist appears on the Galilean scene “in those days”. But what about now? In these days, we have much science but not enough wisdom, we can see so much through the Media but lack vision, we are always connected through WiFi but not connecting. So, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber observed, our relationships with people have become a matter of utilization, not of meeting. Or as the Swiss theologian Guardini said, we have lost our “living contact with real things”, and can see them now only as “objects of pursuit and possession, of commerce or research”.
So, in these days, the Baptizer speaks to us too. And he calls us this Advent to repent. He calls you and me to see beyond the superficialities of these days and to broaden our minds and go beyond the dominant worldview that is all around us. He challenges us to move beyond our current way of behaving and living. Because “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.