In this beautiful homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B, Father Hanly reminds us that the Messiah is among us.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
Responsorial Psalm: Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
Second Reading: First Thessalonians 5:16-24
Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28
(Beginning of homily missing/inaudible)
… to call them back to God.
Anyhow, St. John says, and I quote this one now,
“Why do you baptize?” they ask him. “You are not the Messiah. Why are you baptizing?”
Because to come as a baptist is a very important element of who the Messiah will be. And so the (inaudible) is set by the Pharisees as: “Why are you baptising if you are not the Messiah, the one to come, the Holy One of God.”
And he says, “I am the voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight his path.’”
But he says to them, “I baptize with water. He will baptize you with fire, he will baptize you with the Spirit of God, and then you will truly be called the children of God.
He says, “Here I am, the voice of one crying in the desert.”
But he says “There is this one who is among you, living with you, here, hearing my voice with you, and you do not recognize him.”
When we speak of the comings of Jesus, we speak of the three comings that we celebrate.
The first one, of course, is Christmas. And this is joyful, for many reasons.
But it’s also an ache in the heart for those who, perhaps, have lost somebody in the past year that they love or have moved away. They recall the happiness of these days and now it seems they’re moving away from that kind of joy that they experienced on Christmas Day and there’s a little sorrow in their hearts.
And we pray for them at this time, because Christmas is very, very hard for people who do not rejoice in their hearts or rejoice and feel any joy because they are confronting difficulties in their own lives.
But for most of us, it’s a very happy day. It’s a family day. And it’s easily explained.
We celebrate the first coming of Jesus as if we celebrate his birthday 2,000 years later. And in the celebration of his birthday, we become one with that day. It is almost, when we hear the story told again and again about the birth of Jesus, we almost feel that once again he is reborn in Bethlehem. And he is our Saviour.
The second celebration we celebrate is the second coming of Jesus. And this is given to us in hope.
We know the Messiah came to establish the Kingdom of God among us, but that kingdom will take time in order to develop. So that the full realization of that kingdom, the realization of the kingdom of peace, of joy, of one family under God, the full realization of God’s work in this world, will come at another time. And we hope will come soon, and yet no-one knows when it will come.
And so our joy is a kind of a joyful hope. It makes us understand that this world is full of meaning and purpose as it moves faithfully, carefully, and sometimes skipping a bit here and there, but it is moving towards the unity of all mankind and the full realization of God’s triumphant love for all things.
And so Jesus feels at this time when he says that on that day the Son of Man will come riding on angel’s wings that will be the day of great judgment.
But the third coming of Jesus seems to be more fitting for today’s gospel when Jesus says, “There is one among you who you do not know. There is one among you, you do not recognize, and that one is the Messiah.”
And so I’ll end this with a story. I’m sure that many of you have heard this story before — about the rabbi in the woods. Do you know this story?
Once upon a time, but it wasn’t once upon a time, it was maybe two or three hundred years ago, in a place in and around central Europe.
There was this very famous monastery full of eager monks. A wonderful monastery, where all the people in the area used to crowd the masses on Sunday. Everyone was happy to be there to hear the monks sing. And they were so cheerful and happy that it was contagious and they helped, just by their mere presence there, to deal with many of the problems that confronted this little village where most of them were farmers.
Now on the side of this very famous monastery was a great woods with lots of beautiful trees. And the abbot of the monastery used to go walking through the woods.
And one time when he was walking through the woods, he spotted a little place. It was not exactly a house, just a shelter. And inside there was this rabbi. The rabbi was praying in the woods. So he went over and introduced himself. He said “I am the abbot of the monastery.” And the rabbi was very kind and they sat down and talked. And they liked each other so much they talked and prayed all night together. And then the abbot went back to his monastery.
Many years later, something had happened so that somehow the monastery had lost its early spirit. And the monks, maybe from saying the same prayers and doing the same things, day after day, lost a little edge off their spirituality. And they began to be complaining about this and very ordinary. And people, when they came now, the singing wasn’t as good as it used to be, and this and that, and there were complaints. And, finally, the people began to fall off.
The abbot always left orders at this time, because he needed so much to talk to this man who understood all the things in his heart, the rabbi, he said “Whenever the rabbi comes into the woods, call me.”
And so, one afternoon, his second in charge came up and said, “The rabbi is in the woods. The rabbi is in the woods.” So he ran out and he searched around, and he finally found the little lean-to, and there was his friend kneeling in prayer.
The men embraced and they shared their experiences. They hadn’t seen each other in a quite few years. And the abbot said “You know, Rabbi, I have something to tell you and it really affects me, it makes me quite sad: the monastery that I told you about in the old days is no longer here. Something is wrong with us. Something is missing. It’s not a matter of believing in creeds or practices, it’s a matter of the heart.”
And so the rabbi said, “Abbot, I know that’s a great pain.” But, he said, just before the abbot went home he said, “Now Abbot, I have this secret that I am going to give you. The secret is very, very secret. You’re not to tell anyone. And the secret is this: one of the members of your monastery is the Messiah of God.”
Well, the abbot thought he was maybe putting him on, but he knew that his friend was a sincere and wonderful rabbi, and he looked at him and he said, “One of us is the Messiah?”
The rabbi said, “Yes, but don’t tell anyone.”
So he went and the first thing he did was he called in his second-in-command there and he said, “Brother Dominic, I just met the rabbi, and I have a secret, but I can’t tell it. But don’t worry, because the monastery will be well again.”
And he was dying to tell him what the secret was, but he’d made this promise to the rabbi.
And, finally, Brother Dominic saw that the abbot was so happy he wanted this to be shared. So what he did was he said “Now, Abbot, you’ve got to tell me, for the good of all the men here.”
So the abbott said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you, but you don’t tell anybody else. Not one other person.”
“Oh, I promise. Yes, I promise.”
And so he said, “I met the rabbi in the woods, and the rabbi in the woods says that one of us, one of the members of our monastery, is the Messiah!”
Well, he was so surprised.
As he was leaving, the abbot said, “Now, don’t tell a soul. Don’t tell anyone.”
Well, you can imagine what happened.
He got down to the end of the hall and there was his favourite brother, a buddy of his, who was the cook, and he was on his way down to the kitchen to prepare supper.
And the cook says to him, “Why are you so happy? You’re almost dancing around.” This was very out of character.
And he says “I can’t tell you.”
“What do you mean you can’t tell me?”
“Well, it’s a secret.”
“Well, it’s the secret of the rabbi in the woods and I’m not allowed tell you, because the abbot says I shouldn’t tell anybody.”
“Well,” he said, “just tell me and I promise I won’t tell anybody.”
So he told him.
All of a sudden, it wasn’t very far along the way that everybody in the monastery knew what the rabbi had said, and nobody knew that the other person knew, because each one just told one person.
And so what happens is they all said, “Which one is it?”
And they couldn’t figure it out, because they were very ordinary people. I mean they had their good points: some were good singers, and some were patient, and some were this and that. They also had their bad points: they argued a lot, and they were lazy, and maybe sometimes they drank too much, and they had all of these things.
So they can’t figure out which one it is.
So the only solution to this, of course, is that you treat everybody as if they are the Messiah and you (inaudible) to pay homage to the Messiah, who was among them.
And, all of a sudden, they began to care about each other, and see the good things in each other, and say, “Yes, it might be Brother So-and-so, because he never loses his temper, he’s so kind and generous hearted, and he’ll do anything for you.
And, gradually, the whole monastery changed. And the brothers began to realize how lovely it was to live among people who were so kind and generous, forgiving and loving, and so Christian, as if Jesus himself was among them.
And the people came back, and the singing became wonderful, and the monastery regained all its spirit of the old days when they were a force for spiritual healing and good, and they especially celebrated Christmas with great joy.
And then, finally, one evening, when the abbot is sitting there in the dark on Christmas Eve praying, he knew the rabbi was right.
Because Jesus once said, “If you are looking for me, you will find me amongst my people.” All (inaudible) knew that Jesus was one with his people.
And Jesus himself had said, “On the great day of judgment, you will be judged by this: ‘When I was hungry you gave me to eat. When I was thirsty you gave me to drink.’”
He never saw it in this way, but the Messiah was among you all that time, because when you did it to the least of your brothers, you did it to me.
The old abbot smiled and nodded his head and he said, “Yes, the rabbi in the woods was right. The Messiah is among us. He’s in each and every one of us.”
And when he began to fully understand (inaudible) hearts, that each of us who turns to their brothers and sisters and say (inaudible) Lord, and the kingdom will unfold in our midst.
And you will know what Jesus said is true: “I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
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This homily was delivered on 14th December 2008.
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