HOMILY – NOVEMBER 27
The prophet Isaiah lived some 700 years before Christ. His book of prophecy (which is actually three books in one) gives both encouragement and warning to God’s people in Jerusalem. If they live according to the plan of God which has been revealed to them, they shall prosper. If they try to make things more politically prosperous for themselves without regard to God, their kingdom will fall and they will be carried off into exile. It didn’t take a prophet to see what was going on; but it took a prophet to SAY IT, loud and clear, to the king, to his court, to the religious leaders, and to the people in general.
Now, Isaiah tried to disqualify himself when God called: “Nooooo, Lord, I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips!” The people are wicked, he says, and he’s no better. But God won’t take “No” for an answer. He will cleanse Isaiah’s deficiencies. He sends an angel to bring a burning coal right from the altar of offering in the temple, and the angel touches it to Isaiah’s lips. The long form of the little prayer the priest says just before he reads the Gospel at Mass recalls that cleansing, and the priest asks God to do the same thing here and now to his own heart and lips so that in THIS time and place, he, like Isaiah, may worthily and fittingly proclaim the Good News.
It is the Church, after all, the New Jerusalem, in which the prophecy of Isaiah finds its fulfillment. The nations of the world did not exactly come streaming to the old Jerusalem, the temple of the Lord, the house of the God of Jacob, to hear God’s instructions and come to life. Most often, they came to gain some advantage over the Jews, and even to loot and plunder. Gentile converts were few and far between. But on and after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit both sent the Apostles OUT and drew more and more people IN, people of every race and language and way of life. The very word “Catholic” means “universal,” and it is an apt description of what happens when the Church gathers for worship: “Here comes EVERYBODY!” Even our old ethnic parishes witness to this marvelous transformation. They were established to serve people of a certain ethnic group; and now after a century or so, they often serve a great hodge-podge or melting pot of peoples, both among the parishioners and in their neighborhoods. The government needs a so-called “commitment to diversity” to accomplish by REG-ulation what the Spirit of God accomplishes by IN-spiration, and far more effectively!
But today’s Scriptures are not addressed only to God’s people in the Old Testament. They are addressed to US, in the Church. We are called to “walk in the light of the Lord,” so that others may behold God’s work in us and come streaming to the Church, the mountain of the Lord, seeking instruction and finding God’s love at work. “This is how all will know you for my disciples,” says the Lord, “by the love you have for one another.” Where else can people go in this cruel and vindictive world to find genuine forgiveness? The United Nations? A political party? The media? Hollywood? Mecca? And where is the Church? In the Vatican? In a house of worship? Well, God makes it clear that HIS PEOPLE is his dwelling place in this New Covenant. What a responsibility we have to live as though God is living within us – BECAUSE HE IS!! And many people will either be drawn to him or drawn AWAY from him by the way WE act and speak. And you can’t say, “But I’m not ordained! I’m not involved in the parish! I’m too young! I’m too old!” Nope, no excuses. If you need a burning coal to purge whatever keeps you from being the agent of God you were baptized to be, God will take care of it, and it might not be pretty. It’s better to be willing and cooperative.
If Jesus teaches in the beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” it was Isaiah 700 years earlier who announced that God’s people should lead the world in the ways of peace, converting weapons of war into farming implements. This isn’t a message only for politicians and the military. What are YOUR weapons of war? How about a sour attitude or a wet blanket? How about Facebook or Twitter? How do we use social media to wage our own wars, firing off rounds and then hiding in the shadows of anonymity? That’s why St. Paul gives such warning to his Christians at Rome in the second reading. The day of the Lord is at hand! We’ve got too much to do to get bogged down in orgies and drunkenness, in promiscuity and lust, in rivalry and jealousy.
Most of us have just a little tendency to get very uneasy when we hear Jesus say in the Gospel, “At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Is he talking about our death? Is he talking about the end of the world? Maybe, just maybe, he’s talking about the call of God that comes to each of us so, so often in life: “I need you. There, over there. I need you over here. Can you give me a hand with her? Will you give him a smile and a good word to get him going?” Advent is a time to prepare for the Kingdom of God, sure. But we’re prepared for the Kingdom of God only if we’re ready for the very next time he needs us, at whatever hour the call comes. One thing you can be sure of: it won’t be long!