Sunday Sermon for December 10, 2017, the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B

Readings: Is 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8

I recall seeing a comment to rock and roll fans from a person who is an opera fan. It was an invitation to come to the opera, but it was the reason that I found most moving: it was because people who go to the opera do not care what the singer’s body looks like, what they care about is the voice. In a society that has made the human body into an object this insight was quite profound. It does not matter what the person looks like; all that matters to an opera fan is the quality of their voice and their ability to be on pitch and hit the right notes. They looked beyond the external elements to focus on what was of the essence for that art.

In the Gospel we hear about St John the Baptist who was dressed in camel skin and ate grasshoppers and wild honey. Needless to say, his hair was probably disheveled and his beard was not trimmed. He would have been quite a sight! In a society like ours, he would be rejected as being very weird or he might be locked up in a psych ward somewhere. The people of his time, however, were able to look beyond the external things they could see and focus on what was most important: the message he proclaimed. He spoke the truth and people recognized that.

Considering that where St. John was preaching and baptizing was about twenty miles from Jerusalem and an almost 7200 foot difference in elevation, the trip on foot would have been rigorous; I think it is fair to say the people did not go for entertainment, they did not make such a trip to see an “odd duck,” and they were not seeking a preacher who would tickle their ears. They made this arduous journey to hear the truth: St. John pointed out their sinfulness, but also the great mercy of God. He called the people to repentance and conversion so that their hearts would be made ready for the coming of the Lord.

This is the comfort offered to Jerusalem, the Holy City, as we hear in the first reading. In order to accept the message regarding the forgiveness of sins, one has to first acknowledge that one is a sinner. If we do not recognize our sins there is obviously no necessity for our sins to be forgiven. When we preach today that everyone goes to Heaven, there is no need for repentance and conversion.

It is high time that we stop putting our priorities on the external things: entertaining people, preaching fluff, trying to get more money, attempting to be relevant, providing pep rallies, in a word, turning the house of God into a den of thieves. Granted, there are many people in our world today who do not know anything but surface-level pablum, but to fail to preach the truth is still a disservice to them and a violation of their dignity. It suggests that they are either incapable or unworthy of the truth. Every person is made in the image and likeness of God which means they are made for truth, for love, and for life.

In the second reading today St. Peter talks about what is going to happen at the end of the world and asks, considering this reality, what kind of persons we ought to be. He answers his own question by saying we should be conducting ourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. If someone knows nothing about holiness and devotion because all they know is that Jesus is “nice,” such a person has a right to hear a deeper truth and be given the opportunity to repent of their sins and experience a conversion in their life.

There is no doubt God will provide some means for this to happen, but one has to wonder, first of all, if they want to hear the truth and, secondly, if they are willing to accept the word coming from God’s chosen instrument. As we see in St. John the Baptist and in many of the Saints, such a person might not be the most pleasant to look at, might not be the most eloquent to listen to, and might be inconvenient to find. However, if we, and they, are willing and able to look beyond the externals and listen to the message, it can change our lives as the message of St. John the Baptist changed the lives of the people who came to hear him.

In the meantime, the voice of the Baptist rings throughout the ages. Will we seek out that message, confess our sins, repent and change our lives in order to prepare the way for the Lord in our hearts?

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit