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The Second Sunday of Advent – The Homily

I have a tough time with eulogies at funerals. The stories, the conquests, the talents, the overwhelming goodness, the absolute sanctity of the person honored, I find a bit much. Not that what they say isn’t true, it probably is. But in meeting with families they often comment that “all of this talk about death and judgement and sin and redemption… it’s so sad. We don’t want to talk about that.”

Then why are you here? Give the eulogy at the luncheon. All of those great attributes you say about the person, all of the accolades you bestow upon them… You know what all of those “good works” are worth in terms of that person actually getting in to heaven? Isaiah had a name for it in last week’s First Reading, “polluted rags.”

Give me the sinners. Give me the addicts.  Give me the losers. Give me the people who are:

  • Wrestling with God.
  • Struggling with their humanity.
  • Agonizing over their sins.

I’ll break bread and crack open bottles of Chardonnay for hours around their kitchen table.

A scripture scholar s has this to say about people like that:

They came back then, in droves, to hear John. There are people now, everywhere, aching in holy hunger waiting for you in the desert, crying out. They are a parched wilderness. They are the wasteland. They are crooked roads, and rugged land.

They are broken.

A bird can only build a nest with broken branches. God can only build HIS HOUSE with broken people.

 

Origen (183-253) was one of the greatest thinkers of ancient times. He became head of the catechetical school of Alexandria at the age of eighteen. In 230 A.D. he was ordained priest and his life was entirely devoted to the study of Scripture and mastering the spiritual life.

Origen wrote a homily on Luke’s Gospel 22, 1-4 (SC 67, 300-02) which, like today’s Gospel from Mark, also quotes the same passages from Isaiah:

Visualize these fallen mountains and hills as the hostile powers that formerly raised themselves up in opposition to you. Such an interpretation is legitimate because, in order to fill in the kind of valleys we have been speaking of, the enemy powers—the mountains and hills—must be laid low.

Love no longer tolerates the presence of valleys in your lives.

Jesus the Lord comes, then. He smooths out your rough places and changes your disordered ways into level paths, making in you an even, unimpeded road. A road that is absolutely clear, so that God the Father may walk in you and Christ the Lord make his dwelling in you and say: “My Father and I will come and make our home in them.”

Why would God do this? Origen continues:

If Christ did not come to your soul, of what use would his historical coming in the flesh be to you? ”Every crooked way shall be straightened.” Each one of us was once crooked; and if that is not the case, it is entirely due to the grace of Christ. Through his coming to our souls, all our crooked ways get straightened out. You have only to recall the kind of people you were before you put your faith in the Lord to see yourselves as deep valleys, as pits plunging precipitously into the lowest depths. But now that the Lord Jesus has come and has sent the Holy Spirit in his name, all your valleys have been filled in with good works and the Holy Spirit’s fruits.

Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. (Isaiah 40:5


People admire other people who have come through a tough struggle to a better place on the other side – “The glory of the LORD revealed so that all people shall see it together (Isaiah 40:5). That’s why it’s tough for me to relate to saints. I just don’t measure up. I like hanging around the sinners – NOT so that we can relish in our sinfulness, but that I understand what they’re struggling with.  I feel safe around them because they understand that sometimes “Father Compassion” doesn’t measure up and isn’t so compassionate at times.

 

A bird can only build a nest with broken branches. God can only build HIS HOUSE with broken people. “Love no longer tolerates the presence of valleys in your lives. If peace, patience, and goodness find a home in you, not only will each of you cease to be a valley but you will actually begin to be a mountain of God.” (Origen Homily on Luke’s Gospel 22, 1-4: SC 67, 300-02).

 

The audio version of the homily is here:

 

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