Sunday Sermon for December 9, 2012, the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

Readings: Bar 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-6, 8-11; Lk 3:1-6

In the second reading today St. Paul states that he is confident that God “Who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” There are many ways that this could be applied to each of us as we see the manifold expressions of God grace in us, but I think we need to apply this to the call to holiness that God has extended to each and every person who is baptized into His Son.

This point is borne out in the statement that follows as St. Paul tells the Philippians that his prayer for them, after stating some other points, is that they will be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. St. Paul uses these terms several times in his letters. We heard them a few weeks back when he was talking about marriage and how it was part of the husband’s task to make his wife pure and holy. We are all members of the bride of Christ; therefore, it is His task to make us blameless, spotless and holy.

It is with this in mind that we need to apply to ourselves what we hear in the first reading. Baruch, who was the secretary to the Prophet Jeremiah and a Prophet himself, speaks to Jerusalem telling her to remove her robe of mourning and commanding her to clothe herself in the splendor of glory from God. He even says that Jerusalem should put on the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal Name. The High Priest wore a mitre that was adorned on its front with a diadem that said “Holy to the Lord.”

We note this complete turn about for Jerusalem as she goes from mourning to glory. We also see that there will be even bigger changes on a larger scale as the lofty mountains are brought low and the age old depths and gorges are filled to level ground. This is almost exactly what we hear in the Gospel reading where St. John the Baptist quotes the Prophet Isaiah saying that a straight path must be made for the lord by filling in the valleys and bringing the mountains low.

I mentioned above that this is how we are to apply this call to holiness from God to ourselves. What does this mean? It means that if we are going to grow in holiness and put on the glory of God, that there will be some serious changes made in our lives. These are not merely cosmetic changes; if the lofty mountains will be brought low and the age old depths are to be filled in, it means that there will be radical changes even to things we have never known differently.

We all know people who do not like change; if you suggest change they will say “I have never done it that way” or “we have always done it this way.” Well, the mountains and valleys have “always” been in place and God is talking about leveling them out. These are not minor changes like planting a few trees or removing some overgrown shrubs that can be done with hand tools. No, this is a complete change of the landscape that will require some heavy equipment.

This is why St. Paul prayed not only for the people to grow in love, but also in knowledge of every kind of perception so that they could discern what is of value. The value spoken of here is the same as our Lord references when He says that we are to store up treasure in Heaven, not treasure on earth. The things that we value in an earthly sense often have little value in spiritual terms; sometimes they even cause us to go backward spiritually.

We need this kind of discernment, not only to distinguish between the things on the surface, but even more importantly, to understand what is important on a deeper level. As we have seen, God does not want just surface adjustments, He wants radical changes. Therefore, we have to discern what is of true spiritual value. If we do not understand these distinctions, we will frequently reject the work God is doing in our soul, the very work St. Paul wants God to complete in us. Clearly, the work cannot be completed if we reject what He is doing.

We are used to seeing the mountains and valleys of our lives. There is some good and some beauty in them and we have grown accustomed to them being there. The thought of them being leveled is foreign to us and we reject it. We need to pray, as St. Paul did, for love, knowledge and discernment so that we will allow God to complete what He has begun in us and make us holy.

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