Saturday, December 3, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Ps 72:1-2,7-8,12-13,17
Rom 15:4-9
Mt 3:1-12

Every year in Advent, the gospel proclaimed on the second and third Sundays recalls the message of John the Baptist, the prophet who was Jesus’ herald, the voice crying out in the desert, the friend who described himself as unworthy to carry Jesus’ sandals.  John was a kinsman of Jesus but the degree and nature of that kinship is unclear.  We learn of that kinship between John and Jesus only in Luke's magnificent first chapter when the angel soothes Mary's concern by telling her, "And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren."  That son was John.

Who was this herald, this prophet, this voice crying in the desert?  In paintings, movies, and the occasional strange novel, John the Baptist is sometimes portrayed as either a drugged out hippie or a wild-eyed lunatic, who was dressed in animal skins and ate a diet that most people would consider disgusting.  But, John’s way of dressing was the same as that of any other man who lived in the desert.  The animal skins were necessary for warmth during cold desert nights.  His diet had nothing to do with radical vegetarianism. Rather, he had to maintain ritual dietary purity. In contemporary terms he had to keep 'kosher.' In the end, his dress and diet are irrelevant. His message, however, is as important today as it was when he proclaimed it in ancient Judea.  We have written testimony about John from several sources.  The first source is all four Gospels, what Biblical scholars call 'multiple attestation.'  John is also mentioned in the Antiquities of Josephus. 

Josephus was an historian who was neither Jewish nor religious.  He lived from about A.D. 37 to 100.  He wrote this about John: “He was a good man.  He encouraged the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellow men and piety toward God, and in so doing to join in baptism.  In (John's) view this (way of life) was necessary if baptism was to be acceptable to God.  Baptism was not to be seen as pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body after the soul was already cleansed by just and pious behavior.”  “He exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellow men and piety toward God.”  Obviously neither  the message of faith and justice nor the behavior it demands are modern ideas.

“Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.  And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’”  The mandate in this short sentence was later elaborated upon in the Letter of James.  “Be doers of the word not hearers only; What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Simply saying “we have Abraham as our father” is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.  It does not excuse wrong action.  Loudly proclaiming that one has faith in Jesus without living out the demands of that faith, does not excuse sin. John's message was uncompromising.  It was the opposite of one of the saddest words used in the U.S. today:  "Whatever."  John's message is not a 'whatever.' John's message is 'this is the sure path you must follow, this is the one you must follow.' In time that message cost him his life.

As Paul wrote in the second reading, “What was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. . . . Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  If we are able to live out those sentences we would help bring about the peace prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading. 

We face many choices in Advent.  The important choices do not include what do I buy my sister for Christmas, should I send a card to the Johnsons, or where can I find the biggest flat screen TV? The choices are how to live out our faith.  How to live that faith in an attitude of repentance and conversion of heart, and to say with the psalmist:

“May his name be blessed forever;
as long as the sun his name shall remain.
In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed;
all the nations shall proclaim his happiness.”

Is early Sunday AM here.  Fell into a dead sleep after a busy thirty hours and then awoke way too early.  Peter and I left on Friday afternoon for Ravne where he was to give a talk.  We stayed at the rectory overnight and then headed to his grandfather's.  Then to his parents', about thirty minutes away where we changed into clerics to conduct the funeral and interment (Mass will follow later) for a four-year old girl who was born with multiple birth defects and not expected to live more than six months.  It was very painful to participate.  Afterwards we went back to his parents to rest up a bit before celebrating Mass in a church about 20 minutes from LJ at 6.  This was a good thing as recently the evening at our church in LJ, it is not the vigil Mass, was switched to 4 PM.  No way we could have made it back in time.

After days of fairly warm temperatures and rain there have been a string, that is to continue all week, of freezing temps, clear skies, and sun, that rarest of commodities in LJ.  The first two photos below were shot through the skylight of my room facing the castle.  Can't decide which I like better, the color or the black and white.

The pastor took me for a long walk on Saturday AM after breakfast.  Ravne is an old town with a lot of new construction.  The abandoned house/castle is from the old but the apartment buildings to the right of it are from the 1960s.

The house planted the theme song from The Munster's in my brain.  Couldn't get rid of the ear worm for a while.  Some things demand black and white photography, a form I like.

We dropped some things off at a parishioner's home.  These crosses represent the house blessing done each year.  New cross for each year.  One sees the chalk marks of the house blessing (the year and KMB, the purported names of the magi) on all the lintels.  This is the first home at which crosses were pointed out. 

The parishioner's have a small flock of sheep.  Two new lambs posed nicely.

The next three were on the return to the church.  The pond is partially frozen.  It was a bracing walk. 

There was a pig butchering going on at grandfather's house.  Chose not to include those photos here.  They are a tad gory but fascinating.  These grapes were still on the vine in front of the house.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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