Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent in Year B 2020 at Mary Immaculate Parish, Quakers Hill-Schofields
Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11; 2Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8
6 December 2020
Towards new heavens and new earth
Dear sisters and brothers,
Advent is a time of waiting in hope for our Saviour. This year, it has taken on an added dimension. The pandemic has caused much pain and destruction in the world with no end in sight. We have been waiting in hope of a vaccine that will immunise us against the virus. Then back in control of our destinies, we may be able to go about our business as usual.
But the question is whether or not we should treat the pandemic simply as an aberration. If there is a lesson to be learned from this disaster, it must be treated as a wake-up call. If we Christians are to discern the voice of the spirit through the signs of the times, we must be open to conversion. We must be prepared to better ourselves in how we live rather than simply waiting for better times.
There is much wisdom in God’s Word today as we learn to think and act in alignment with God’s plan rather than in blind pursuit of personal security, prosperity, and wellbeing. In the first reading, Isaiah challenges us with a radical notion of the divine intent. Prophesising a new future for his people after the exile, Isaiah invites the Israelites to prepare themselves for that future.
Isaiah gives a message of consolation to a battered people. He teaches them that God’s plan for their destiny is being achieved through those traumatic times. He summons their courage and invites them to look beyond their present predicament to the time of renewal and restoration. The time of exile will end. God will gather his scattered people like a shepherd gathers his lambs.
Isaiah does not shirk from the hard talk, either. Using poetic metaphors, he calls them to change and conversion. “Let every valley be filled in and every mountain and hill be laid low”. In the context of enslavement and oppression, this is a call to build a new society based not on dominion but communion, not self-centredness but solidarity with and care for the vulnerable. Martin Luther King Jr used these very words of Isaiah in his famous “I have a dream” speech. He was inline with the prophetic tradition in calling for the dismantling of systemic racial injustice and the creation of an inclusive society.
The Gospel tells us about the ministry of John the Baptist, an eccentric who lived in a no man’s land and survived on the strange diet of locusts and honey. Yet, it is John the Baptist, the lone voice in the wilderness who speaks God’s word of truth, justice, and love. John’s message is like that of the whistleblower. It reveals the uncomfortable truths. It does not only challenge rulers, emperors, and high priests. It also forces us to look at ourselves and discover those uncomfortable truths that we hide behind our appearances.
What are these uncomfortable truths that we need to own up and deal with? What are the valleys that have to be filled in, winding ways that have to be straightened and rough roads be made smooth? John sounds a warning; he blows a whistle to awake our consciences. He questions the status quo; he challenges the system; he calls us individually to remove the obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of Christ’ coming.
Let us accept His challenge to conversion and renewal with humility.
Like Isaiah before him, the Baptist was the lone voice that amplified God’s message. His critique of the imperial system became the divine narrative. Both of them challenge us today to not go with the flow and fall victim to fear and despair. They point us to the active presence and power of God in history. They encourage us to live as God’s faithful disciples and instruments for the world. For just as the mighty are brought down and the humble lifted, salvation history will favour those who align to God’s plan in spite of the pressure to the contrary.
Dear brothers and sisters,
The signs of the times call us to be better stewards and servants. We need a radical new way of living that brings harmony and sustainability to all of life. Even if and when we get back to “normal”, we need to think and act differently; we need to rewire ourselves to be in communion with one another as a human family and as part of nature.
Advent is a time of extricating oneself from the unnecessary trappings of life and focussing on that which matters the most. May we live more deeply in communion with our God, with our neighbour, and our suffering world. As St Peter encourages us today, may we work towards “the new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home.”