I have been asked by a few for access to my homily from last Sunday, so here it is.
When we hear the word ‘Gospel’, the first thing that jumps into our minds is, well, the Gospel! But the word ‘Gospel’ is actually first a Roman term, used by ‘evangelists’ to spread the ‘good news’ of the Emperor’s victories to the whole Empire. The emperor, too, was often called by these evangelists ‘a son of the gods’. It was to let the people of the Empire know that the pax romanum, the peace of Rome, was spreading throughout all the earth and that the prosperity and stability that Romans had been enjoying would continue to enjoy.
Knowing this, let’s read that first sentence from Mark’s Gospel again: the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Understanding that Roman context, we see how subversive Mark is being here. He knows full well that he saying to Roman Christians that Jesus is the new ruler and the peace he brings is through a victory that no mere human being can bring about. But Mark is also aware of the Jewish context of his readers. The word ‘beginning’ harkens to a couple familiar texts: the beginning of the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of John: Mark is announcing a new creation. Also, when Israelites hear the name “Jesus” they would hear it in its Hebrew form: Jeshua, which is Joshua, who was the one who won the victories that were necessary for Israel to enter the Promised Land. The first sentence of Mark’s Gospel, then, is charged with politics, history, and is stating very succinctly that Jesus is the culmination of the victory of God in the world.
The Gospel continues this dramatic course with the quotes from the prophets. And this is where our Gospel hits us in our contemporary situation. Mark knows that the prophets had been silent for centuries. Many Israelites felt that God had even abandoned them because he allowed the Romans to occupy their territory. They wondered if a Messiah would really be coming, if God was really still acting in their world. Is this not our experience? Don’t we too wonder if God is really near? How can we experience the presence of God in a world where so much suffering and evil occurs? Does not our experience sometimes say simply that it is not worth it, God does not exist, or if He does, He doesn’t care?
The stark reality of Israel at the time of Jesus is not unlike ours today. But the voice of John the Baptist is equally dramatic: in that stark world a voice finally speaks out loudly and clearly: God is coming into this world! And that proclamation of John the Baptist echoes in the hearts of Israel so much that they come from far and wide to hear His message, to repent of their sins, and to prepare their hearts for the coming of the Messiah.
The question thus arises for us: if the ancient world of Israel is not unlike ours, then why aren’t people clamoring to enter into Churches, to hear the message proclaimed that Jesus saves, and to bring the heart of the Gospel into their lives? Does this not demonstrate a stark difference between Israel and us? To an extent, yes, this is the difference maker between the ancient world and our world: they were a world always seeking God, and we are a world that does not necessarily do so. But Israel is not the historical anomaly: we are. It is only in the last 300 years that there has been a marked attempt to dismiss God as the center of our lives. In many ways this effort has won out: instead of Christ being the center of lives, He is instead just one commitment among many for a vast majority of people, or even of last importance. Instead of Mass be of absolute centrality on a Sunday, it often becomes something we do only when it is convenient.
Regardless of the efforts of the last 300 years, Christianity has not imploded, but rather exploded. There are over 2 Billion Christians in the world and that is a number that is continuing to grow faster than population growth. In the country that is most aggressively anti-Christian in its policies – China – it is expected to be the largest Christian nation on the earth in the next 20 years. These are facts, and they tell us that the Gospel can continue to speak to people’s hearts, that people continue to desire salvation, and that people continue to repent and to change their lives.
People throughout the world are hearing that same message of John the Baptist in their lives every day to repent, to turn their hearts to Jesus, and to give their life over to Him, but why isn’t that the case here in Oak Bay, on Vancouver Island, in Canada, etc.?
The season of Advent is a time to look into our hearts and ask ourselves these questions. Is Jesus the center of my life? What do I need to do to put Him at the center of my life? Do I know in a deeply personal way his love for me? In fact, the word ‘Advent’ means “to turn towards the One who is coming”. That is why every year in the Second week of Advent we hear a Gospel about John the Baptist and His preparing the way for the Lord: He is crying out from the wilderness to us just as much as he was 2000 years ago.
John the Baptist is crying out to us too: Repent, prepare your hearts for the coming of Jesus and receive His forgiveness. For that is really all it takes. We need to acknowledge our sins, our dependence upon God, receive His forgiveness, and to begin to let Him into our life each and every day. Yet this simple message is made complicated, not by God, but by us. Too often we avoid such a commitment for a variety of reasons: we aren’t willing to confess our sins, we fear that God will restrict our lives, that to live for Jesus is no fun or not joyful, or we just don’t feel like it.
Yet the encounter with the Person of Jesus inspires us to take a risk, to take a leap and brings joy! And there is no better day than today. Because everything we chase in life never fulfills, and yet we desire fulfillment in our lives. Jesus is the fulfillment of all our desires. We simply need to jump into His arms. As Pope Benedict says: “the happiness you desire, the happiness you have a right to, is a Person and has a name: Jesus Chris.” Jesus enters into our world at Christmas to take on our weakness and frailty, to take upon our sins so that we can be freed from their power over us. We can let Him take that place in our lives today. We can make that change for Him today. We can deepen our relationship with Him today. It is very simple. For those who wish to give their lives to Jesus today, or who wish to start to try and seek Him, or who want to deepen their relationship they have with Jesus, I invite you to join me in the prayer that you were handed as you entered the Church. I invite you to take the risk, because I can attest that there is nothing more beautiful than to know Jesus, to speak of Jesus, and to share Jesus with others.
Father, I believe that you know me and love me. I have not always chosen to love you, and have broken my relationship with you through my sins. Thank you for sending your Son Jesus who proved your love for me on the Cross. Lord Jesus, I open the door of my heart and I invite you to be at the centre of my life – to be my Saviour and my Lord. Direct me by your Holy Spirit and help me to live the Gospel with my whole life.