Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
Third Sunday of Advent Homily
John the Baptist was a prisoner of King Herod at the time he sent his disciples to Jesus with the question: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ It seems an odd question from the one who had actually promoted Jesus to the people. But for centuries, Israel had suffered under the oppressive rule of foreign powers and their own leaders were often unfaithful and corrupt. In the face of this pervasive evil, John had sought to prepare the way for God to finally overcome the evildoers and establish his kingdom. He was paying the price of his outspokenness.
So when John heard about Jesus’ ministry, he perhaps began to have doubts about God’s promise. Jesus was not preaching fire and damnation: he made no mention of the coming wrath of God, as John would have expected. What John heard was that Jesus talked of the blind seeing, the lame walking, lepers being healed, the dead arising to life, and the poor, the outcast and the struggling receiving good news. No wonder Jesus encouraged John not to lose heart but to trust in him.
Isn't it true that our own expectations of God are often about him manifesting his mighty power to make things right? We have a secret desire that God will resurrect his Old Testament ways. If we can’t wield power ourselves, we want to wield it through an all-powerful God. We want a God who makes things right, sorts things out, solves all problems and rids the world of all its ills. But this style of Messiah was not part of God’s plan. God did not send the world a warrior, he sent a Son.
And it is through the sending of that son, Jesus, that we can now recognise that not all lepers suffer from skin disease. In programmes of outreach and hospitality, the mentally ill are being healed today because of the followers of Christ. The Church is the greatest non-government provider worldwide of medical, welfare and pastoral care. Prisoners in our State’s prisons are discovering fresh hearts and reasons for hope through faith programmes run by Christians. There will be Mass today – as there is every Sunday down the road from here – for the seafarers who have a few hours of shore leave while away from home for more than a year. These are the lepers of today, and Christians are there with them because Jesus showed us that this is God’s way.
Jesus proposes a different path to us – a new way of thinking, a new way of acting. Only the way of sacrificial love – a path centred on God’s hospitality and not his wrath – would vanquish the reign of evil and bring about a new kingdom of justice and peace. This sort of love is the love of a parent for their child – strong, sacrificial, and yet tender. In the face of evil, such love may seem weak, impractical, foolish. Yet it is the only force that truly changes the human heart. Such signs today of the presence of Jesus are also our signs of hope and the wells of divine life.
We have a week and a bit left of our Season of Advent. The readings today are a timely reminder that not all that glitters is gold. The places where God can be found may look unappealing on the surface. But God’s gifts of life and joy, of faith and hope and love are not meant to be just another list of things from which we casually pick and choose. If we want to get more than just nice feelings out of Christmas we need to be adventurous and willing to take a risk that the paths of Jesus are life-giving ones, and that the patient mercy of God will see us through.