9 December 2018
Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
When I was in University I was very blessed to have another seminarian as a study partner for our history course. He was a brilliant student who was of great help to me. Later I learned he had left the seminary after 4 years there. When I met him on my return to Africa, I was amazed when he said to me that he no longer believed in Jesus Christ. He said that the life of Jesus was no more than a myth or a piece of fiction without any basis in history.
It was to counter such attitudes that Luke in today’s gospel situates Jesus in the historical set-up of his time. He says that Jesus was born in a certain place, in a certain time, a real human being. To emphasise this he names the important people of his time: Tiberias Caesar the emperor, Pontius Pilate the governor of Judea, other political leaders and finally the high priests Annas and Caiaphas. Surely one would have expected God to seek the help of someone among these mighty of the earth to spread his Good News of salvation, but nothing of the sort. On the contrary, the word of the Lord came to a very simple man, a hermit in the desert, a man without any political power or religious authority. It is interesting that John was in the wilderness, a quiet place, plenty of time for reflection. He possessed none of the world’s goods to fill up his life so he was really empty to receive the word of God.
Is there not a strong parallel in the life of Nelson Mandela? For many years he was condemned to prison in South Africa, often in solitary confinement. He was very badly treated by his white prison guards. Who would have blamed him after all the harsh treatment and humiliations he received if he had become a bitter man, ready to seek revenge when released? Like John he was in the wilderness, for him that of prison, none of the world’s material goods to fill up his life, plenty of time for reflection. Obviously the word of God came to him too. This man came out of prison and became a tremendous symbol of reconciliation and forgiveness, trying to overcome all the evil of the apartheid system in South Africa and bringing whites, blacks and coloured peoples together. And he remained so till his death, two years ago yesterday.
God’s word still comes to the humble people who renew others by act of kindness, to people who lower the mountains of selfishness by their selfless serving of others especially the poor, to those who fill up the valleys of hatred and injustice by their work for justice and peace and to those who commit themselves to try and safeguard the environment, the ozone layer, the ecological system of the earth so as to hand on a better world to those coming after them. We may not think they are important people by the world’s standards but by God’s standards they are and he will use us also if we allow him. Are we not all called to have the same vocation as John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord by communicating the Spirit of Christ and his message of hope, love, freedom and peace to others? To help people fill up with peace and joy their valleys of pain and make their rough paths smoother. A word of affirmation and encouragement can work wonders. People like you and me here this morning are called by God as John was. How do you and I respond?
God is surely the God of surprises. His ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts as the prophet Isaiah says. He comes to all those people who like John welcome the Word of God into their lives. He is still coming into our world and perhaps in a totally different way than people imagine. Each of us is invited to hear the word of God today wherever we find ourselves. John the Baptist heard the word of God in the wilderness, Nelson Mandela in the silence of his prison cell. Yet our cities and towns are often such busy places and our lives are often so hectic. We do really need some quiet time so that we can hear God speaking to us. Do we try and do this ourselves? Some people at Advent try and find some time each day to listen to the word of God so that they may prepare spiritually as well as materially for Christ’s coming at Christmas. How will you and I prepare?
We are told that John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins? Repentance meaning a totally new way of following Jesus and seeing what the Good News is really about – a total liberation on all levels of our being. Above all repentance means looking at life with the eyes of God. Do we pray daily to God for this kind of repentance since it is a pure gift from God and freely available?
Rest assured that in Jesus God did not appear in his humanity in a superficial and hasty way, as a president or a pope might pay a fleeting visit to a slum area so as to be with the poor for a couple of hours. He came to live amongst us once and forever. He became the centre of history and nothing or no one can change that reality. He is the God of today and will be the God of tomorrow too. When we look in this way at the coming of God we again can become people of hope.
“Lord Jesus, help us to prepare for your coming this Christmas by breaking down in us the walls of pride and selfishness between God, ourselves and others. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA