Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent in Year A 2016 with the Admission to Candidacy to Holy Orders of Mr Jerome Emmanuel at Our Lady of the Rosary, Kellyville, 11 December 2016
Discerning and following the way of God for us in the midst of confusion, uncertainty, competing and conflicting voices can be daunting. How can we live the Good News in a society that is at best indifferent and at worst hostile to its Christian heritage?
How can we be people who engender faith, hope and love when the institution we belong to is shrouded in a dark cloud of the abuse crisis and its aftermath? How can we go forward to the future when we cannot see much beyond the general state of malaise and decline around us?
Scriptures this Sunday may not give us all the answers we want. But they do provide us with a valuable lesson of finding hope in despair, discovering grace in vulnerability and discerning God’s way in the unexpected.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks to his people during one of the darkest times of their collective history. After decades of living in exile, the people of God have lost all hope of returning to their homeland. They have resigned themselves to a life of displacement, alienation and loss. Yet Isaiah reframes their hopelessness with a vision of rebirth. “The wilderness and wasteland will rejoice and bloom” he foretells of their cherished motherland. He reassures them that God will reveal his glory and splendour. The messianic age will be fulfilled with the eyes of the blind opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, the lame able to leap and the ransomed return. It is a way of saying that God favours those who are faithful despite their afflictions. The faithful exiles or in biblical term the “anawim” will inherit the messianic blessings or the beatitudes.
The Gospel also speaks of these same messianic blessings in the ministry of Jesus. To begin with, we are told, curiously, that John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus and asked him if he was the Messiah (!). Perhaps John had expected a different Messiah. John had told people the axe was lying at the root, ready to chop down the unworthy trees. He had promised the chaff would burn with unquenchable fire. But Jesus didn’t seem to be doing much slashing and burning. Instead he was performing the messianic blessings that Isaiah foretold: The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead raised and Good News to the poor. John, his disciples and indeed all who want to follow Christ need to discern God’s way beyond their own limited understandings and expectations. Jesus wasn’t exactly what John was expecting: He brought fire – but it was the fire of the Holy Spirit. He sought out sinners and restored them. He showed love and mercy even to those unlikely candidates: publicans, tax collectors, sinners.
We might be like the Jewish people in exile unable to see what lies beyond the crippling crisis. We might be like John who had doubts about the coming of the Messiah even though he had risked everything for it. What the Word of God tells us today is that we must not lose heart. Instead we must discern and follow God’s way made known to us through the signs of the times and the operations of grace even in our trials and tribulations.
Thus, the Royal Commission might be a source of scandal and disillusionment for us. But in the light of God’s Word today, it might just be a catalyst for renewal and transformation. The crisis can be turned into an opportunity for us. Indeed, this can be a Kairos or a privileged moment through which the church might become smaller, poorer and humbler but hopefully more of a light and a sacrament of God’s love to the world. After all, what matters is not the size and success of the institution but the quality of our discipleship and witness.
We might have our moments of doubt and despair as a result of tragedies, failures and disappointments of a more personal nature. We are called to be formed and transformed through them. Much of the transforming power of our faith is lost when we have grown too comfortable with it. We must hear again and again the call to be faithful, to expand our vision, to stretch our horizons, to challenge our old habits and to go the way that God designs for us.
This morning, we accompany Mr Jerome Emmanuel with our prayers as he commits himself to be a candidate for permanent deaconate. It is a commitment to give oneself away in a discipleship of love and service of the Kingdom. It is to follow the example of Christ who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for others. From where I stand, the service of married men in this ministry is a sign of God’s blessing and a source of enrichment for the church.
Advent is a time of reflection, a kind of spiritual wilderness in which John lived and Jesus himself was led by the Spirit of God. It is a time of extricating oneself from the unnecessary trappings of life and focussing on that which matters the most. We learn to live more simply and more truly. Let us pray that out of this time of affliction, God will bring about His plan for us and for His church. May we become a more authentic sign of his presence and love in the world. May we like Mary who submitted to God at every turn in her strenuous journey discern and follow His plan for us with her humility, courage and commitment.
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