Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand

DECEMBER 8, 2019 SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (Lec. 4)       

1)         Isaiah 11:1-10

2)         Romans 15:4-9

3)         Matthew 3:1-12 Gospel related: CCC 523, 535, 678

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. This is John the Baptist’s nine-word, takeaway message. In many ways, the best homily ever! And seemingly without much trouble or extensive explanation – at least, we are not privy to it in Scripture if it did exist – large numbers of people hear and heed his direction. People from all over a significant geographical area come to him, repent and are baptized as they acknowledged their sins.

Why? Granted, the people of that time had a sense of urgency about the kingdom of heaven, believing it to indicate the beginning of the end of the world. So they came. Hence also the Pharisees and Sadducees: who showed up more with the intention of flee[ing] from the coming wrath than actually producing fruit of their repentance. More important, John was the one whom Isaiah foretold, and his preaching resonated with the people of Judea. They listened. They listened because, ultimately, the message was not about him, but the One to come.

And there is something else important in this story. Perhaps it is not as obvious or is maybe less considered: There is no expiration date to John’s message; to his invitation; to his, if we really think about it, command. There was no “be here by 6p.m. because we’re locking the doors” added on to his exhortation. There is no Scripture passage in which God rescinds this invitation made through John the Baptist.

That’s because the One who follows John, the One to whom John points, is the Son who comes to reconcile us, finally and forever, to the Father. He himself is the kingdom of heaven at hand. He is the invitation. And he, too, tells us to repent – and to follow him. And so far, through God’s mercy and grace, human beings have had that opportunity for 2,000 years.

That we are here, together, worshiping the God who invites us to eternal life means that we’ve paid at least some attention to the message. In our baptism, and brought to completion in our confirmation, we have the fullness of the Holy Spirit which binds us to the Father and the Son. We have the fruit and gifts of the Spirit, and God’s grace to help us as we strive to follow Christ.

Yet John’s message is no less urgent for us today, because just like the people of Judea, we know not the hour or day of Christ’s return. So thank God that he does not ever revoke this invitation! Because, despite the tools God gives us, we still fall short: we sin; we fail to change what we need to change. Therefore, we still need to repent when it is called for. And God, in his infinite mercy and love, rejoices in this reconciliation. He encourages us in [our] harmony with one another, and our keeping with Christ Jesus, as Paul says.

This is the Good News we proclaim. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, and we have a small taste of its fullness here in our celebration of the Mass, and by our partaking of the Eucharist. God is truly good.