Homily for the second Sunday of Advent - Year C - Lk. 3:1-6
Father Daniel Meynen
"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' "
"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness."
Saint Luke, in the Gospel for this second Sunday of Advent, tells us the precise time when the Lord addressed John the Baptist interiorly in order to reveal to him his mission: that of preparing for the coming of the Lord! It was necessary that, in a precise and clear manner, everyone would be able to make reference to the time when He who is eternal, beyond time, and who is therefore the Master of time, would come to earth. It was when the Lord came for the first time that was realized what Saint Paul (who was Saint Luke's travelling companion) called the fullness of time: "When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman." (Gal. 4:4)
John the Baptist is the Precursor of the Lord: he prepares for his coming, his first coming. John has but one love: God, the Word of God who revealed himself to him! John was sanctified before his birth by the grace of God, that grace borne by the very word of the Mother of God, She in whom the Word had just been incarnated: "[Elizabeth] exclaimed with a loud cry: "... When the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy." (Lk. 1:42, 44) This grace that John received in the womb of his mother Elizabeth had already made him into another man, another creature, no longer living for himself, but for God alone. John does not yet know this clearly. But the Spirit leads him into the desert, and there, he receives the light which reveals to him his mission: to prepare the way of the Lord!
Anyone else would have been overwhelmed, terrified by such a mission. But John does not have any ties to this world, and he had little concern for the riches, honors, and glories that a purely human life could bring him. Grace is there, in him, powerful, loving, provident, always ready to help he who accepts it without reservation. Day after day, as the human dispositions of John developed with age and according to circumstances, John did not cease to accept this grace, up until the day when he allowed himself to be led by the Spirit and went into the desert to receive the decisive light, that which would dictate to him the details of his mission. As always, burning with love for God, John answered the call of God and began to preach, in accordance with what the Spirit had dictated to him...
"He went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' "
Why did John preach a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins? Is he not a "sinner" also? Was he not born, like any man or woman (except for the Virgin Mary), with original sin? Would the grace received by John have erased in him the stain of the sin of our first parents Adam and Eve? No. But despite his state, that of being a sinful man, John recognized the grace of God that was in him: he knows this grace, he knows what it realizes in him, he knows that the love of God is upon him and in him. And remaining in a deep and true humility, John the Baptist loves God as his Father who made of him a son according to his heart.
In his mission, John remains humble, and when Jesus came to him in order to be baptized by him, John seems to object at first: "Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' But Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.' Then he consented." (Mt. 3:13-15) John remains humble in his mission: if the love of God is in him, it does not belong to him to show it to anyone, even at this supreme moment when he is called to baptize He who is Love in person.
But is not this renouncement of John immediately rewarded by the manifestation of the Father who, at the moment of the baptism of Jesus, makes his voice heard, saying: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Mt. 3:17)? For, in that voice of the Father, how could one dissociate what concerns Jesus and what concerns John? When the Father speaks, it is clear that he is speaking first and foremost of Jesus his Son, who is God, like him. But, who is Jesus if not the brother of us all? Who is Jesus if not the Head of that great Body, the Church? John humbles himself, he carries out his mission, and the Father glorifies him in Jesus, who is his only Son according to the divine nature, but also the first-born among a multitude of brothers (cf. Romans 8:29)!
To receive the grace of God in humility: that is how one prepares for the coming of the Son of God! The Virgin Mary did this until the much-awaited day when the Word of God became incarnate in her. At all times, the saints who built up the Church, day after day, century after century, did the same. Today, the grace of God is still offered to us, notably in the Eucharist, where we receive within us the very author of grace. Let us receive Jesus with love, gratitude, and humility! And if the Lord of Lords asks us to follow him in order to win the entire world to him, it will no longer be the time to hesitate: let us say "yes" to him with all our heart! "Father, thy kingdom come!"