Let me tell you how the devil tempted me and got into my head on Friday. He did it via email if you can believe that. There was I minding my own business going through 45 unread messages in my inbox and there was this one from Zillow. Zillow is a real estate site, that I don’t know how I got on their site or signed up for email notifications or that they know the exact place in Wildwood Crest that could be considered one of my favorite places. Almost every year since I can remember we went down there – Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins for our family vacation, and then for over 2 decades my parents after working hard putting my brothers and me through college were able to fulfill their dream and have a place down there. After my father passed away 7 years ago, my Mom sold it. And we’ve gone down a few times for a week or so since, but it’s not been as easy to rent as we had hoped for. So Friday, Zillow sends me this email about a house for sale – a beautiful, 5 bedroom place that’s beachfront. That’s only selling for about $3 million. Seriously, Satan himself had to send this to me. There’s no way in hell, literally, I could even think to rent the place for a week, why am I getting this? But I ended up looking at the pictures, fantasizing about “what if” imaging how awesome it would be, how exciting… Then I’m at the store that night and see that the Powerball Lotto is up to $300 million. So I’m buying a ticket – and getting excited about it. Maybe this will be God’s special Christmas gift for me and my family.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read this, my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT-December 12, 2021, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
-PS: We are in the midst of the Annual Red Hawk Catholic Christmas Appeal. As of this Sunday, we are almost 50% of our $25,000 goal- for more information if you’re interested in helping: https://www.facebook.com/donate/673334786984593/ or you can donate at www.RedHawkCatholic.com Thank You for your consideration!
Sorry to share with those waiting for some Hallmark Christmas Movie special here – Fr. Jim did not win the lotto… is not getting his shore house. But don’t cue the violins. Honestly, the whole thing was silly and a waste of time for me. Not that the shore house is like some pentagram or thing that is evil in itself. But that I found myself imagining that this thing, these things would bring me happiness, would make me happy, would be a cause for me to rejoice was silly and could be a source of evil.
Don’t get me wrong – if I had the right numbers, I’d imagine you would have heard me rejoicing miles away from the second floor of the Newman Center. Buying a house down the shore would have been a happy thing that I know I’d love to share with my family and friends. But the reality is that is a transitory thing. It would only bring happiness for a period of time. The thing is that eventually, that puts you on the road to desiring more and more things, thinking that somehow this isn’t enough, it isn’t perfect. All of a sudden Wildwood would be too far a drive so I’d be hoping and wishing for a way to avoid Jersey traffic (maybe I could get a helicopter ride? I mean it was $300 million which actually would’ve been closer to $100 million after taxes) Or maybe I’d learn of some other place, some other shore I’ve never gone to -that’s closer than I’d like to own a place at. Then I’m trying to worry about getting down there… longing for vacation time, imagining that’s where I really want to be rather than here, where I am now – recognizing I have more than I need here and now.
As I threw my ticket out (and frustrated for the moment when I realized I didn’t have one measly number by the way) I kind of laughed asking myself why do so many of us keep looking around the world for reasons to rejoice? If it’s not a Powerball and a house down the shore – is it straight A’s on your classes for the semester? Or is it that we never hear another word about COVID? Or that the economy was settled? Or our families were (fill in the blank)? Not to diminish or dismiss any of those things as unworthy of pursuing or categorizing them as somehow “evil.” But we seem to think that the absence of bad things in our life; the attainment of pleasurable things automatically would cause rejoicing. Yet human nature seems to prove time and again that’s not the case. The present worries and concerns those things passing often brings relief – but there’s always another semester coming up, there’s probably another pandemic at some point. The economy, I rarely understand any of those ups and downs…
When we are honest about those things, when we recognize that the things of this world are fleeting, that the pleasure that comes from attaining them is transitory – we find that longing, the desires within looking for fulfillment are still there. We find ourselves in company with the crowds in the Gospel today. These crowds when you evaluate them on earthly terms are like many of us. Comfortable. They have the basics and then some. They have homes, they have food, they have clothing… The tax collectors have more than that and have wealth… The soldiers have power. What do they have in common? Everyone of them is unfulfilled. The crowds think it will be fulfilled if they had the wealth of the tax collectors. The tax collectors think they will be happy if they had the respect the soldiers had. The soldiers think that if they had the wealth and acceptance of the crowds they would be able to rejoice.
All of them find themselves in of all places in the desert. Listening to this man who is poor, smelly, dirty, whose life consists of fasting and prayer. They’re drawn to him because as empty as he is of any and everything that one could imagine are basics – they see he is at peace within himself. He is fulfilled. He is rejoicing. Why is that? We heard how last week in the Gospel – the word of God had come to Him. And the human heart which was created by God, for God, ultimately wants God. They want what he has – and so they ask “What are we to do?” How do we settle this restlessness that continues even when we are able to attain things, positions, power? How do we experience not just fleeting happiness that comes and goes – but joy, which is something deeper, that continues even when the world around us that continues to be broken, unjust, unfair? “What are we to do” they ask?
That’s an important question for us to ask as well. Because It recognizes that we have to do something. If we want to experience Emmanuel – GOD WITH US, if we want His kingdom ushered in – – that demands a movement, that requires an active response. We can’t simply cast a vote saying “yeah I’m for that” and expect that it will happen because someone, somewhere out there will take care of it for us. God created us with way too much love and respect. He created us with the freedom to choose to respond or even (shockingly) to reject Him. So hopefully the fact that we are here already reveals on some point that we are with the crowds asking John the Baptist – what are we to do?
And when we listen to the responses from John, there’s something shockingly ordinary about it. He’s not calling us to go and get even with our oppressors; he’s not suggesting counteroffensives or anything offensive. He’s not even radically saying we need to do exactly what he has done, go out in some desert living on locusts and honey. No, he’s ordering things that seem basic, common sense, common decency: share with those who go without; act justly; be humble. He is calling us to strengthen our virtues – to pursue a good life. The things that call us out of ourselves, our self-centeredness – our indifference to the hurts, the worries, the fears of the world around us. That’s when we start responding with Mercy. As Pope Francis once said: “A little bit of mercy makes the world a little less cold and a little more just.” When we do that, when we start to choose to be vulnerable over isolated and stop deluding ourselves that my acquiring things somehow makes us safe and secure; when we choose friendship with God over distrust over every stranger we meet – that’s when we start to see the face of Christ in the poor, the sick, the suffering, the imprisoned, the lonely. That’s when we understand John’s answer to the question “what are we to do”.
Because the thing that John the Baptist knows, what makes Him so confident in his proclamation and sure in his conviction is that Jesus Christ is right there in his midst. Most likely Jesus was right there in that crowd as John was speaking to them. John the Baptist was probably looking right at his cousin Jesus as he said with a wink “one mightier than I is coming…” But they need a re-ordering of their priorities, they need help to learn how to see Him.
For us, we’re in on that news. We know that Jesus Christ is that mightier one that has come. With that, these Advent readings, the historical aspect of that revelation is in the past. Yet the Word of God is alive and active and the Gospel is proclaimed anew. And it comes to us here and now. Finding ourselves very similar to these crowds who find ourselves restless, unsettled, unfulfilled in our everyday lives. Tempted by the things and voices of this world for those things to be satisfied. This third Sunday of Advent, the Church through these scriptures tells us simply to rejoice – all that we need, all that we desire is found here in Jesus. He is in our midst. May we repent of the sins in going to confession so we can remove those things that have become obstacles to Him… May we put our energies in doing for others rather than pursuing ourselves so that we can encounter Jesus ourselves.