A number of Guests to the Sunday Mass asked that this homily be posted on the website.
Just on the eve of this Third Sunday of Advent, our nation has witnessed the horrific slaughter in Newton, Connecticut, taking almost thirty lives, most of them children. At the same time 400 hundred of our troops are gathering in Turkey, poised to intervene in Syria. Such events at that Sunday in Advent dedicated to rejoicing are not ironic or incongruous: they are tragic.
There’s an approach to the liturgy that would urge us to rise above the mundane and set our sights on the eternal, were we to find joy. If by the “eternal” is meant God’s personal presence, both transcending the here and now yet more deeply present to it than I am to myself, I’ll agree to set my sights there. If by “the eternal” is implied the dismissal of the here and now, a denigration of its value, I want no part of that. After all, Divinity created this as our proper context and, in Jesus Christ, assumed it as his own. I won’t rise above the mundane: this must remain the matrix of the Divine for me, the “place” where we meet. And I’ll wade through the tragedies to find my rejoicing. I honestly believe that today’s liturgy invites us to do just that. The liturgy isn’t a drug; it is only a world capable of tragedy that needs hope and joy. Perhaps only a world like ours has carved out the capacity for hope and joy.
I can’t help but speculate how many of our tragedies arise from our certainties, from our answers and solutions to human problems. The Third Reich used the term Final Solution for the systematic extermination of the Jews. How much human life is obliterated as a “solution” to human fears, insecurities, the lack of comprehension, disappointments? I don’t wish to simplify our situation: there are hurdles in life that seem to allow no easy solution. But is any crime anything but pointless?
From this perspective, I find today’s Gospel genuinely Good News: none of these people–be they the crowd, the tax collectors, the soldiers–have any answers or certainties or solutions: Teacher, what should we do? What a blessed question! We are indeed blessed when we honestly have to ask it and have surrender the burden, the illusion, of knowing best and being right! I have grown to believe that only God can be right. My cramped check-lists of the right thing to do, the correct answer or the guarenteed moral credit is so pathetically inappropriate for a being, a human being, so hemmed in by frailty and contingency. The mystery of evil is that my flaws and limitations can be the cracks through which real evil seeps out, leaking its corrosive damage. How much harm comes from my confidence in being right?
Today the people clamor to John the Baptist to sort out their lives. He gives a few practical suggestions but no definitive answers; he contrasts himself to the one mightier than himself. Anything John says is conditional. And when Jesus comes on the scene, Jesus the One awaited by John, won’t he say: Why do you call me good? Only God is good. As each monk sitting here remembers from yesterday’s refectory reading [Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry A. Weddell], “In the New Testament, Jesus asks 183 questions, gave 3 answers and answered 307 questions with a question in return, like a true rabbi.” How foolish my certainties and solutions and my “answers” look next to Jesus! When I can let go of being right, then I do have reason to rejoice!