Monday, December 9, 2013

Kingdom of God IS at hand... now!

2nd Sunday of Advent Year A 2013:
For the next two weeks we are given the character of St. John the Baptist for our reflection.  St. John is the quintessential Advent figure.  He is the voice saying “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
St. John the Baptist is one of those people whose actions speak as loud as his words.  We hear that he is eating locusts and wild honey, that he is living in the desert, that he is wearing camel skins, and he is baptizing.  He is an interesting and intriguing person.  Why is he doing all this?  People were curious and excited.  We hear that Jerusalem, all Judea, and the surrounding countryside were going to see him.  In other words, he was a big draw.  What was this crazy person doing out in the wilderness? 
I think this is a good reminder for us too.  Advent is a great time for us to renew our interest in this story.  This is a good time to renew our enthusiasm for the gospel.  We need to let these familiar stories strike us again, we need to sit with the strangeness of the gospel.  I always find that the hard part about Advent and Christmas as a preacher is that we all know these stories so well that it can be difficult to really pray and reflect upon them.
But, that is what I wanted to do this week as I prayed with this gospel passage.  I wanted to let it speak to me in a new way.  I kept coming back to the central message of St. John the Baptist.  Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand.   It certainly seems that repentance is a recurring theme of the gospel, we hear this message often.  And it is John’s central message, but it is interesting to note that he is wildly popular.  Hard to imagine repentance as popular.  But, then I noticed the second half of the phrase: for the kingdom of God IS at hand.  How interesting: repent for the kingdom IS at hand.  Notice, St. John puts it in the present tense.  He does not say: repent for the kingdom of God is coming at the end of time and you will have to give an account on the last day.  He also doesn’t say, Repent because God has done great things for you in the past.  He says repent, for the kingdom of God IS at hand.
What a great message for each of us during the season of Advent.  It is certainly the case that we are living between the two comings of Christ: he came 2000 years ago, and he will come at the end of our lives or at the end of time, whichever comes first.  So, it is easy to be stuck in this in-between time where the story of Jesus seems to be in the past, and the coming of Christ is always in the distant future.  But, what does John say?  The kingdom of God is at hand.  The kingdom of God is not simple a past or future reality, the kingdom of God is a present reality. 
The way this message usually hits me is like this: repent, because Jesus is coming back and I don’t want him to find me like this.  When rather the message should be repent, and I will see Jesus even now.  What John was telling those people 2000 years ago is just as true today: God is near us, he is not some distant reality.  Repent, because it allows us to draw closer to God.  This is why John was out there in the desert.  He wasn’t just on some fad diet, he wasn’t looking for his inner zen.  John was out there and did what he did because he was close to God.

It should be the same for us.  Right here at Holy Mass we come into the very presence of Christ in this Eucharist.  He is not some distant memory, he is not simply a future occurrence.  He is here, right now.  We repent not because we are afraid of some future judgment, but we repent because it will bring us closer to Christ, present here for us in this Holy Eucharist.

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