2nd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 11:1–10; Romans 15:4–9; Matthew 3:1–12
Untattoo you Jesus wants to enter our lives Let us respond to John’s call and open our hearts to Jesus
Afew years ago a newspaper columnist reported on an unusual program. It dealt with removing unwanted tattoos especially gang-related tattoos from the bodies of young people.
A surprising thing happened after the column appeared. Over a thousand letters flooded in from young people all over the country, asking more about the program.
Because of this remarkable response, the Los Angeles School District and a local cable television company produced a film called Untattoo You.
It told about the dangers of amateur tattooing and showed how difficult it was to remove small tattoos from arms and faces and larger tattoos from chests and backs.
The stars of the film were young people themselves. They talked frankly about why they were tattooed in the first place and why they now wanted the tattoos removed.
The film eventually won a national award and is now distributed throughout the country.
The story behind the film Untattoo You illustrates an important point. All of us have done things in our lives that we now regret and would like to erase.
This is not just true of young people. It is even more true of older people. For example, if I paused for half a minute, I’m sure all the people in this church could recall half a dozen things they did and would like to erase from their lives if they could.
The tragic thing about all of this is that so many people regret what they did but don’t know what to do about it now. So they live with the mistake. Whenever remorse or guilt surfaces, they do their best to put it out of their mind. But it usually turns out to be a losing battle.
The well-known novelist Somerset Maugham spoke for many of these people when he said:
I have committed follies. I have a sensitive conscience and have done certain things in my life that I am unable to entirely forget: if I had been fortunate enough to be a Catholic, I could have delivered myself of them at confession and after performing the penance imposed,received absolution and put them out of my mind forever.
It takes a statement like Somerset Maugham’s to make us Catholics realize how truly blessed we are.
Just as many young people rejoiced when they discovered a way to remove their unwanted tattoos, so we Catholics rejoice that Jesus gave us a way to remove our sins.
This is why the Church sets aside the season of Advent each year. Advent reminds us of the great gift Jesus made available to us, and it urges us to use this gift.
It does this not only to give us peace of mind but also to help us prepare for the day when we will stand judgment before God for what we have done in life and for what we have failed to do.
The season of Advent reminds us that the words in today’s Scripture readings were intended not just for the people of biblical times but also for the people of all times. They were spoken for you and me:
Prepare a road for the Lord? Turn away from your sins.
The one who will come after me. . . is much greater than I am. Concretely, what do these words mean for you and me right now?
They mean the same thing for us that they meant for people in Jesus’ time.
They mean acknowledging our sins. They mean presenting them to God for forgiveness. They mean beginning a brand new life in Jesus.
A good example of what these words are inviting us to do is illustrated by a true story in the book Basic Christianity by John Stott.
Stott tells how one Sunday night a young man knelt down alone at his bedside. It was not a sudden impulse on his part but the result of some serious soul-searching. He decided that the time had finally come for him to open himself totally to Jesus Christ.
There in the darkness of his room he examined his conscience, admitted his sins one by one, and thanked Jesus for making it possible to have them forgiven.
The next day he wrote in his journal:
Yesterday really was an eventful day . . . Behold, Jesus stands at the door and knocks. I have heard him and now he has come into my house. He has cleansed it and now rules in it.
And a day later he wrote:
I really have felt an immense and new joy throughout today. It is the joy of being at peace with the world and being in touch with God. . . . I never really knew him before?
Stott goes on to say that these excerpts were from his own journal.
He was the young man in the story. He shared his experience with his readers because he wanted them to experience the same peace and joy that he experienced by opening himself totally to Jesus.
Stott ended his story by inviting his readers to close his book, kneel down, examine their conscience, acknowledge their sins one by one, and thank Jesus for making it possible to have them forgiven. Advent is an invitation to set things right with God and to prepare ourselves not only to celebrate the first coming of Jesus but also to celebrate his final coming.
Let us rejoice and thank Jesus for giving us a way to erase the past and to start over again. And the best way to do this is to make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation he has given us.
Let us close by paraphrasing a prayer written nearly 1,600 years ago by an early Christian named Origen. Pray along with me in silence:
Jesus, my feet are dusty and dirty. Pour water into your basin and come and wash my feet, as you washed the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper.
I realize that I am terribly bold in asking you to do this. But I fear the warning you gave to Peter when you said to him, “If I do not wash your feet, you cannot have companionship with me.”
Wash my feet, then, Jesus, because I do want your companionship more than anything else in this world.
Series II 2nd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 11:1–10; Romans 15:4–9; Matthew 3:1–12
The man who changed “Turn away from your sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near!” In 1911 Captain Robert Scott and four other British explorers set out on foot for the South Pole. They traveled 800 miles through deep snow and bitter cold. A year later they reached the South Pole.
But on their return journey, their glorious victory turned into bitter defeat. Two men died along the way. The other three froze to death just a few miles from safety.
When the bodies of the men were found, the last words that each had written were still readable. One of the men was Bill Wilson, the doctor of the expedition.
Twenty years before, Bill had attended Cambridge University. His classmates nicknamed him “the cynic.” He had a mean personality and an even meaner tongue. He once wrote to a friend, and I quote: “I know I am . . . proud . . . bitter . . . insulting . . . and always selfish.”
On the polar expedition, “Bill the cynic” become “Bill the peacemaker.” And just before he died, Captain Scott wrote to a friend:
If this letter reaches you, Bill and I have gone together. We are very near it now; and I should like you to know how splendid Bill was . . . everlastingly cheerful and ready to sacrifice himself for the others. His eyes have a comfortable blue look of hope, and his mind is peaceful.
Meanwhile, in his last hours Bill Wilson wrote:
So I live now, knowing that I am in God’s hands to be used to bring others to him, if he wills a long life . . . [for me], or to die tomorrow.
“We must do what we can and leave the rest to him. . . . My trust is in God, so that it matters not what I do or where I go.
The story of Bill Wilson illustrates what today’s Scripture exhorts us to do. First, the gospel reading exhorts us to take to heart the words of John the Baptist: “Turn away from your sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near!”
And second, Paul exhorts us to live according to the spirit of Jesus, saying:
[M]ay God, the source of patience and encouragement, enable you to have the same point of view among yourselves by following the example of Christ Jesus, so that all of you together may praise with one voice . . . God.
Bill Wilson’s remarkable change illustrates what the Church urges us to do during the season of Advent. It urges us to “turn away from [our] sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near!”
When Bill Wilson was at Cambridge University, he never dreamed how close the kingdom of God was for him. He never dreamed that in 20 short years he would be called by God to give an account of his life.
And Bill Wilson’s classmates never dreamed how much he would change in those 20 short years.
The man who was proud, bitter, and selfish became a man who was splendid, cheerful, and self-giving. The man who was known as “the cynic” became the man who was known as “the peacemaker.” History is filled with men and women like Bill Wilson men and women who began life as selfish individuals and ended life as loving, generous people.
The lives of these people remind us that we too can turn from our sins and become loving, generous people.
The lives of these people remind us that God wants to do for us what he did for them.
The lives of these people remind us that God wants to give us the same grace that he gave them. Advent is a time when we recall what God had in mind for us when he created us.
Advent is a time when we recall what God wants us to become.
Advent is a time when we recall that God wants us to make something beautiful of our lives.
Advent is a time when we try to respond to God’s plan for us as generously as did men and women like Bill Wilson.
Charles Wallis tells a remarkable story that took place in the early days of British history. At that time, punishment for public crimes was often cruel and unusual.
A man was caught stealing sheep. The authorities ordered the letters S.T., standing for “sheep thief,” to be branded on his forehead.
The man spent the rest of his life trying to live down those words. He succeeded beautifully.
When he reached old age, the letters S.T. could still be seen on his forehead. When children asked their parents what the letters stood for, their parents said reverently, “They stand for the word saint.”
This is what Advent is all about.
It’s the season that invites us to transform ourselves from sinners into saints.
It’s the season that invites us to take to heart the words of John the Baptist in today’s gospel: “Turn away from your sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near!”
It’s the season that invites us to take to heart Paul’s prayer for us in today’s second reading. Let’s close by repeating it:
[M]ay God, the source of patience and encouragement, enable you to have the same point of view among yourselves by following the example of Christ Jesus, so that all of you together may praise with one voice the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Accept one another, then, for the glory of God, as Christ has accepted you.
Series III 2nd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 11:1–10; Romans 15:4–9; Matthew 3:1–12
Advent Preparing for Jesus’ first and last coming.
John the Baptist said to the people, “Turn away from your sins. The Kingdom of Heaven is near!” Matthew 3:1–2
A few years ago the Chicago Tribune reported how lasers are now being used to erase gang symbols from the bodies of former gang members.
One place where this is being done is at Sinai Health Center on Chicago’s west side. The executive director who oversees the Sinai clinic says:
There is a tremendous need for the program. We have a backlog of more than 700 people waiting to take advantage of the service.
On a recent Saturday, 45 patients went through the clinic. Using a penlike laser instrument, volunteer doctors completed the first step of the removal of the tattoo in just minutes.
One patient was a 25-year-old woman. She said her decision to erase the tattoos occurred one Sunday afternoon. She was pushing her little daughter on a park swing.
A couple of young gang members saw the pitchfork symbols of their rival gang tattooed on her arms and her legs, and opened fire. Luckily, in the haste of shooting, they missed both her and her daughter.
Another former gang member at the clinic that afternoon had three teardrop tattoos removed from under his left eye.
Each tattooed teardrop stood for a friend who had been killed by a rival gang. He said:
I’ve got a wife and a kid now. I want to leave all this stuff behind. It was a stupid thing that I did a long time ago. Retold from Chicago Tribune,March 12, 1996
The Chicago Tribune story illustrates an important point. All of us have done things in our lives that we now regret and would like to erase.
This is true not only of young people, but also of older persons. For example, if I paused a half-minute, I’m sure everyone here could recall several things they have done and would give anything if they could erase them from their lives.
The tragic thing is that so many people in the world regret things they have done, but don’t know what to do to erase them.
So they simply live with the situation. Whenever remorse or guilt surfaces, they attempt to put it out of their mind. But it usually returns again.
The British novelist Somerset Maugham wrote a number of novels that have been turned into Hollywood movies The Razor’s Edge, The Moon and Six Pence, and Of Human Bondage, just to name a few. He spoke for a lot of people when he said:
I have a sensitive conscience and I have done certain things in my life that I am unable to entirely forget.
If I had been fortunate enough to be a Catholic, I could have delivered myself of them at confession . . . received absolution and put them out of my mind forever.
His statement makes us realize how truly blessed we are to have a way to erase sins from our lives. As the former gang members rejoiced when they discovered a way to remove their tattoos forever, so we Catholics rejoice that Jesus gave us a way to remove our sins forever.
This brings us to the season of Advent. Each year Advent reminds us anew of the great gift Jesus has given us and urges us to use to put sins out of our lives forever.
It not only gives us great peace of mind, but also prepares us for that awesome hour when we will stand before God to give a full account for what we have done and what we have failed to do in our lives.
The season of Advent reminds us that the words of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel were intended not just for the people in biblical times, but for people of all times. They were spoken to you and me: Reform your lives. . . . Prepare the way of the Lord. Concretely, what do these words mean for us right now? They mean the same thing they did for the people of Jesus’ time. They mean repenting our past and erasing it forever, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation, one of God’s greatest gifts to us.
They mean doing what the former gang members did. They mean doing what alcoholics do in the fifth step of their 12-step program. That important step reads:
We admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Concerning this step, the AA manual, 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, reads:
Few steps are harder to take and . . . scarcely any step is more necessary. So intense, though, is our fear and reluctance to do this, that many AA’s at first try to by-step Step Five. . . .
Somehow, being alone with God doesn’t seem as embarrassing as facing another person. . . . When we are honest with another person, it confirms that we have been honest with ourselves and with God.
Many an AA, once agnostic or atheist, tells us that it was during this step that he first felt the presence of God. And even those who had faith already often became conscious of God as they never were before. And so Advent is a reminder that it is not just a time for preparing for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming on the first Christmas.
It is also a reminder that it is a time for preparing for the final coming of Jesus at the end of time.
So let us rejoice and thank Jesus for giving us a way to erase the past and start over again.
Let us close with a prayer written by a Christian named Origen in the very early days of Christianity:
Jesus, my feet are dusty and dirty. Pour water into your basin and come wash my feet, as you washed the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper.
I realize that I am terribly bold in asking you to do this. But I fear the warning you gave to Peter when you said to him,
“If I do not wash your feet, you cannot have companionship with me.”
Wash my feet, then, Jesus, because I do want your companionship more than anything else in life. Slightly paraphrased