December 10, 2017
The Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40: 1 – 11/ Psalm 85: 7 – 13
2 Peter 3: 8 - 15a / Mark 1: 1 – 8
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
We are on the second Sunday of Advent. We shift into second gear as we intensify our preparation for the promise of the Lord coming to us. He who promised is faithful. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of God, His promise to us, will always come to pass.
The Collect we prayed says, “Give us grace to heed the prophet’s warnings and forsake our sins.” John the Baptist’s call for us is to confess our sins and to forsake them in the baptism of repentance. Psalm 85 says, “Do not let them turn back to folly (stupidity).” It is stupid to go back to that which we are supposed to be forsaking, our sins brought to confession and our being in repentance. We can prepare the way of the Lord after this because the starting point is always the removal of sin, the forgiveness of sin.
In the gospels, this is what happened to Mary Magdalene, the woman caught in adultery. The religious leaders brought her to Jesus so that they could justify their stoning her. Jesus said, “The one who does not have sin, cast the first stone.” Nobody stoned her and Jesus went to her and said, “Where are your accusers? Neither do I condemn you. Your sins are forgiven, now, sin no more.” In the story of the Samaritan woman that Jesus met at the well in John 4, Jesus told her about her sins that she had been living with many men. Jesus told her the good news by forgiving her sins. Sick people came to Jesus and He told them that their sins are forgiven. The forgiveness of sins was the beginning of the good news.
God’s grace is two-fold. Grace is forgiveness, which is the starting point that never ends. Grace also is the empowering of God’s people to meet His standard. God’s standards will not be lowered. We have this pattern in the liturgy where at the beginning, we do the confession. There would be the Summary of the Law to point out the standard. In pointing out the standard, we realize that we fall short and we confess our sins. The Presider says, “Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive all your sins…” Then, we receive instructions and equipping from the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. It is pattern of removal of our sin, cleansing of our heart, and then the equipping.
Many misunderstand grace that since God forgives, there is no need to be holy. One thinks he can abuse sin or does not need to change because of God’s grace and forgiveness. The standard is still there. Scripture says, “Nobody or nothing impure will enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus Himself said, “Unless you exceed or surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus also said, “John the Baptist is the greatest of all born of women, yet, the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John.” The standard is high and it remains. Jesus told us, “You shall love your God with all your heart, with all your might, and with all your soul,” but you haven’t been doing it, so God equips you. The Decalogue was read today, and we are guilty of failing to meet God’s standards, but He strengthens us and He gives us His divine nature.
The beginning of good news is baptism. John’s baptism is for the forgiveness of sin. He said, “I baptize you with water for the forgiveness of sin, but One is coming mightier than I. I am not fit to stoop down and untie His sandals. He would baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is power, ability, and gifts. It doesn’t stop with forgiveness. God adds to us His empowerment so that we can be like Him which is the standard.
Isaiah 40 says, “Your iniquity has been removed; now clear the way, make smooth the way to your heart for the Lord because you are now able. Now, get up to the heights and sing, and proclaim to a desolate people the coming of their king.” We were formerly desolate, now, we have received the good news. Now, our sins have been forgiven; now, we have been empowered to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. Now, we proclaim to those without hope that the good news is also for them. We are empowered to make the way smooth.
Back then, when we had our Church at the Sheridan warehouse, we started with flooring that was not tiled and grease and grime existed. One of the first things we did was to smoothen the floor by scraping the gum and removing the bumps that were like hardened cement. The grinding of the hardened cement took time, and it became fine powder, a thick dust that floated in throughout the premises. This affected the church activities, and it slowed us down. It affected the health of a lot of people as it caused respiratory problems. This was all because people left things hardened on the floor.
The beginning of good news is we repent. The beginning of bad news is when we harden our hearts. We can make the way smooth, which we can do easily, or we can harden hearts and make the process more difficult. There was this story of a child whose father thought had an attitude problem that needed to be addressed. The father hired a wise man, a mentor, to correct this wrong attitude. The mentor took the child for a walk. They passed by the grass, and the mentor asked to pluck out the grass. There was no problem in doing it. They walked along and they saw a small plant. The child was asked to pluck it out, and he did it without difficulty. They moved towards a shrub, and the mentor told him to pluck it out. The child was able to uproot it, now, using his two hands. They continued to walk and they saw a bush. The child was also asked to uproot it by his mentor. The child plucked it out after an hour that caused some callous and lesions on his hands. He was able to uproot the bush after a long process. They walked again for a distance, and they saw a tree. The mentor said, “Uproot the tree.” The child said, “Sir, I think that is impossible.” The mentor asked him, “Are you learning a lesson? If you let things hardened or let bad things take deeper root, and the longer you allow them to take deep root in you, the harder it is and the more difficult it is to remove them.”
Do we want to smoothen and clear the way of the Lord? Don’t let the things that are not good to take root in our lives, which we will also remove, because we will welcome Jesus into our hearts. The Israelites were given a land of Promise by God, but it took them 40 years to do so, instead of two weeks because they hardened their hearts. This was written for our instructions so that we will learn. Do not let the bad things to take deep root because the longer we do that, the more difficult it is. Nip it in the bud because the beginning of the good news is when we do this, and we confess our sins and we repent. The beginning of bad news is when we start to allow things to harden in our hearts and to take deep root in us. What we need to take deep root in us is the Word of God. Keep the positive attitude because it can affect a lot situations and a lot of people’s lives.
St. Peter said that knowing that this is the process it takes to smoothen the way, then, what sort of people are we ought to be in holy conduct? We need to prepared. Will we be gum or concrete? Will we be good soil or hardened cement? The beginning of the gospel is opening our hearts, confessing our sins, and allowing God to give us this empowerment. Let us prepare by changing our ways and making the crooked straight. In other words, repent!
God wants to comfort His people. He said through Isaiah, “Comfort My people. Say to them that their warfare is over.” The past sins have been forgiven. The hardest part is over. Now, grace empowers you and it is time to move on. Now, it is time to change. Now, it is time to prepare for a new beginning. We are in, and we are anticipating the dawning and the advent of something great. We are given a hint that is 200 meters away from this place. Learn from the parable of the building. God is showing us something. You might say, “Bishop, I keep failing. I tried to make a commitment, and I just can’t fulfill it.” Make a commitment to stick to our commitment. Reinforce the first commitment that we made with another commitment to fulfill it.
May He, whose second coming we await, make us steadfast in faith, joyful in in hope, and constant in love. God is faithful. He will empower us. He will see through what He started. He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. We can do it with God’s help. We can wait in joyful hope for His coming. This is why Jesus came, and He decided to pitch His tent among us and to stay forever with us. He will never leave us nor forsake us because this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.