This is the substance of today’s homily.
This time last year I was living with my sister Maureen down in Kerry. My niece Sile was expecting and I was privileged to experience the whole drama at close quarters: morning sickness, not being able to get a good night’s sleep because it was impossible to get a comfortable place to lie in bed, unusual appetites and mood swings, getting baby clothes, etc.
It gave me a sense of what happened 2000 years ago when God decided to enter the world in the same way as we do. It also gave me a sense of God’s humility that he should stoop down from his realm of inaccessible light to our lowly existence, even to being born in a stable with a cow’s feeding box for his crib.
Today’s gospel however describes another and equally important coming of Jesus, namely at the start of his public ministry, and at about the age of 30. The prophet specially chosen for this was St John the Baptist. He mission is described in the gospel in these terms: A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.
So how did the Baptist prepare the people of his time for the coming of Jesus and his kingdom? Repent for the kingdom of God is close at hand. And how did people respond to this invitation? Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins.
So Advent isn’t just about celebrating Jesus’ birthday 2000 years ago. More importantly we too want to prepare our hearts anew so that Jesus can live within us and we can truly be members of his kingdom. Thus we too need to REPENT. This word simply means to turn around, to refocus, re-centre our lives on Jesus and his truth. Advent and Lent are two seasons in the Church’s year when we do this, recognising that it is in our nature to drift off course.
In practice we repent by examining our conscience with regard to Jesus’ truth about right living. This is contained particularly in the Ten Commandments and the general moral teaching of the Church. After we have done a sincere examination of conscience, then we go to Confession. Hopefully you will all plan on this during the Advent season.
Why do we need to repent and re-focus our lives on Jesus? All of us in the parish and beyond have felt an intense sadness and helplessness over the recent tragic death of Jackie Bonner. Being an engineer by background, I have always lived with the expectation to fixing things. Yet if I had the billions of Donald Trump, I could not bring Jackie back to life or relieve the immense grief of her family.
I have been saying to myself all week that this is a God-sized problem and only God can fix it. How fortunate we are to profess in the opening line of the Creed: I believe in God, the Father almighty, the Creator of heaven and of earth. We depended on our natural father to solve problems of a certain scale when we were young but as mere mortals they were limited in what they could do. But our heavenly Father is ALMIGHTY and he can solve ANY problem!
In the image of Divine Mercy, we have the inscription JESUS I TRUST IN YOU. Furthermore Jesus is actually walking towards us because one foot is in front of the other. In the image/statue of the Sacred Heart we have the open arms of Jesus inviting us: Come to me all you that burdened and over laden and I will give you rest. When we come to Jesus with trust and confidence, the almighty power of God flows into our lives.
The greatest manifestation of this almighty power was revealed on Easter Sunday morning when the broken, tortured corpse of Jesus was gloriously resurrected. Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this as an enduring explosion of light in our darkened world. Choosing to live in this light is the only remedy for the woes of this world, this universal experience of “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.”
In summary: Advent is a time for us to repent and re-centre our lives on Jesus and his kingdom. Only Jesus can ultimately solve the many God-sized problems in our world.