Blessed Sacrament Parish
Homily by Father Mike Kuse
December 8, 2013 – 2nd Sunday of Advent
10 AM Service
Gospel: Mathew 3:1-12
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
In the rectory I have a plaque showing the lion and the lamb next to each other. It’s a powerful message for all of us because that’s what you and I deal with day in and day out — being able to know that differences are what attract us. We know that someone else has something I need, or maybe I have something that someone else needs. But in God’s Kingdom the two, most unlikely, should be right next to each other.
Let’s think about that for a moment. This past week, if you turned on your television, you certainly witnessed some segment of Nelson Mandela’s death and life. Nelson Mandela was very much like our Pope Francis. If he had to stand up and talk before he gave his last breath he would probably say, “First of all, I am a sinner. My life is not perfect. What I was able to accomplish happens only because of the grace of God. I appeared at the appointed time just like John the Baptist historically appeared at the appointed time.”
So Nelson Mandela in South Africa was able to bring people together and take all the various factions, and for the very first time, they were able to elect a leader. Also, here is someone who had a quarter of a century in a prison cell to think about freedom, and justice and death.
I often wonder, and it might sound cruel, if we would take every boy and girl at the age of 13 or 14 and have them spend one week in a prison cell. They would just get bread and water, maybe some rice and beans, and they would be given a Bible. They would know at the end of the week they are going to get out. But how that experience might change their lives, rather than to wait after so many years and the young person has been drinking too much and has a reckless driving ticket, or is selling meth and ends up in prison for a several years, and his or her life is turned all upside down. Perhaps if they had just this one moment to think, “This is kind of fun for a week, but I don’t want it to go on any longer.”
That might have helped all of us at the age of 13 to have that time to think about, “who I am, and where I’m going.” We wouldn’t be able to go into prison and say, “I want this cell because my friend is there and my other two friends are over there.” You just go in where you are told to go, you are assigned a cell with another person, and you are both going to have to talk to each other.
I remember when I was teaching in high school and I had a senior class for several years and we talked about marriage and the priesthood and what you are going to do with your life. I kept saying to them year after year, “You know, in a few months many of you are going to go off to college. For the first year you are going to be told where your room is, and who your roommate is going to be — the one you are going to be living with that year. That roommate may end up being your best friend and being in your wedding, or that person within a few months will drive you absolutely nuts.
As a typical senior they would look at me and say, “Oh, Father. Everybody is nice.”
I said, “Fine. Good luck. Have a good four years.”
Then they would come home at Thanksgiving or Christmas and the boys would say, “I hate to say this but you were right. This guy I have for my roommate is something else. I just can’t wait until the year is over. School is fine, but living with this guy is awful.” Or the girl says, “My roommate decides to have her boyfriend stay all night in our room, and I have to get out of the room and find another place to sleep. This is not college.”
But I say, “But this is life. That’s what it is. And you have to go back and learn to be friends with that person. You don’t have to agree with that person, but just be friends with that person.”
That is what Jesus is trying to say so he can get into our hearts this morning. He is simply saying to us, “Whether you go to work, if you belong to an organization, if it’s in your neighborhood — everybody is not going to be like you. You can’t change everybody.”
And Jesus says, “The lion and the lamb lay together.”
When we come into church, that’s really what we are doing. We don’t have pew rent anymore where the third pew is your pew and you can come in one minute before Mass or thirty minutes before Mass and nobody is going to dare take that pew at 10 o’clock Mass because — that is your pew. We have gotten away from all that kind of nonsense. Now we come in and we don’t know everybody. But that’s the gift of hospitality. That’s the gift of welcoming one another.
All of you who are married, you married into families. You are only going to spend your life with one person. But the rest of his or her family is not going to disappear. All of a sudden you find out, “We are going to travel to North Carolina to be there for Christmas!” Or, “We are going out to Spokane, Washington, for Easter.” Or, “Her family wants us to go on a cruise with them. I can’t think of anything I’d rather not do than go on a cruise with that family. But I love my wife.”
And the wife says, “My husband is the greatest person in the world.”
And Jesus would say, “Shut up. Go on the cruise. You might find out that maybe your preconceived opinion of that family isn’t totally on target. And if it is, then that is your gift: to show them love, and to change.”
Alyssa is going to be baptized today and she is inheriting all of us. Maybe in a few years she might say, “Man, you have really brought me into a motley family. These people, some are nice and others don’t care about me.”
But then we would say, “But they are your family. And you are now their family. And that is the gift.”
So today as we process the season of Advent and we get ready for the joy of Christmas, we really have to go back and ask, “What do I really need to do to be ready for Christmas Day?” And the answer is, we have to listen to John the Baptist, and listen to Jesus. And just remember, if you want to have a fantastic Christmas, remember the lion and the lamb.
However you spend Christmas, with whomever you spend Christmas — if you go out and ring the bell for the Salvation Army, somebody may just call you a name as you are going into Walmart. It is up to you to say, “Merry Christmas. Thank you for the compliment.” All of a sudden, that person may say, “The nerve of that person thanking me. Why are they collecting money? I’m not going to give to that.”
It’s with us always. So we all have to make some little adjustments. Nothing can separate us. Because in the Kingdom of God, there is no color of skin. There is no trophy where billionaires live over here, millionaires over here, and the unfortunate poor slobs are over there. When you get into heaven the whole thing opens up. There’s no time in heaven to think through this nonsense because in heaven — the lion and the lamb will be one.
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Monsignor Michael Kuse is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, Illinois.