6 December 2020 Homily for Second Sunday in Advent
HOMILY BY BISHOP NOEL TREANOR
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (B)
ST PETER’S CATHEDRAL, BELFAST
Readings ; Is 40.1-5, 9-11; Ps 85 9-14; 2Pt 3.8-14; Mk 1.1-8
- ‘Say to the town of Judah : “here is your God” ‘ (Is 40.9)
God is the subject of the passages we have listened to from the Scriptures today, the second Sunday of Advent. Each passage approaches the subject in a different way.
The lines from the prophet Isaiah (is 40.1-5, 9-11), the first reading, rise from the experience of hard times. The voices in this poem suffuse the harsh punitive experience of the Jewish peoples’ exile in Babylon with a new and vibrant hope. That new hope arises from the promise that ‘the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all humanity shall see it together’ (Is 40.5).
The earthy image of the shepherd is then drawn on to describe the caring and restorative quality of God’s relationship with humanity : ‘ he is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes’ (is 40.11).
Beautiful images, one might say! They also evoke the attitudes and dispositions we are invited to make concrete in our way of living, as we live the way of the gospel.
- Faith, Justice and Peace
In similar vein the person depicted in prayerful thought in the lines of the Psalm (85.9-14) arrives at the insight that the quest for God ultimately reveals the indivisible link between justice and peace – we note those evocative lines : ‘mercy and faithfulness have met, justice and peace have embraced (Ps 85.11).
Then the extract from the second letter of St Peter, written in times of trial and threat to survival and cast in apocalyptic images of the end times, is an encouragement to live lives which generate ‘righteousness’ (2 Pt 3.14) and ‘peace’ (2 Pt.3.15) in our relationships and dealings with others. Righteousness and peace are, and are presented as, the hallmarks of the promised ‘new heaven and new earth’ (2Pt 3.13).
III St Mark and the Good News about Jesus, the Son of God
In the light of these passages the opening verses of the gospel according to St Mark announce the radically new and good news of God’s direct and incarnate engagement in history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In the opening sentence of his gospel St Mark goes straight to the purpose of his writing : he is going to present the ‘good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mk1.1).
Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is at the heart of St Mark’s gospel. As we follow the pages of St Mark this year, we shall see Jesus’ identity as Son of God proclaimed time and again and finally in the chilling words of the Roman centurion at the foot of the Cross – ‘truly, this man was the Son of God’ (Mk15.39). In a setting of supreme injustice on that gory Calvary hillside, where God’s absence was called out by the dying Jesus, the centurion, icon of ourselves in troubled circumstances of distress and abandonment, awoke to God revealed or glimpsed in the crucified, suffering, dying and dead Jesus of Nazareth.
- ‘All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him’ (Mk 1.5)
Reading these opening lines of St Mark’s gospel, we are struck by the contrast between the attraction wrought by John the Baptist on the one hand and his graphic and formidable transfer of attention on the other hand from himself to ‘someone more powerful than I am’ (Mk.1.6).
Refusing the status of a religious guru, he not only points to Jesus as the promised Saviour. With the use of a metaphor of a slave on their knees to untie his master’s sandals, John seeks to point to the otherness of Jesus, as Son of God. As John did, yet from a totally different background and life experience, so too the centurion would recognise Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.
- ‘I will hear what the Lord God has to say’ (Ps 85. 8)
As the figure of John the Baptist, living an ascetic lifestyle in the desert, attracted many to hear him as one in tune with God and the things of God, those key words of the psalm we have read and prayed – ‘ I will hear what the Lord God has to say’ / ‘Let me hear what the Lord God would speak’ – propose a disposition, a turn of mind, we might undertake for this coming second week of Advent :
We might take a little time, some quiet moments, to muse about the enduring or eternal things of life and eternity:
- Does the Good News of the gospel inspire what drives me in life ?
- Does the Good News of the Jesus’ message shape the vision of life, the value system we live by and impart to our children?
- Do I allow the Word of God to unlock a sense of wonder at God as Creator and Redeemer on my part, to stretch my intellect and imagination to glimpse the deeper significance of the simple daily acts that make up life ?
Thinking over such matters can lead us anew into the renewal and reorientation set in train by John the Baptist.
Some quiet moments taken for this purpose enable us to turn things around in our lives, to re-discover faith as a spiritual adventure in opening our lives to the saving mystery of Christ and thus experience liberation from oppressive misconceptions of the Christian life primarily as mere adherence to moralism.
Such silent moments of reflection and prayer enable us to begin again to do our little bit to enable kindness and truth to meet and ‘justice and peace to kiss’ (Ps 85.11), as the poet and author of the Psalm put it so insightfully and so prophetically.