Sunday, 4 December 2011

2nd Sunday Advent, Year B, Shaftesbury

Mk 1:1-18; Isa 40:1-5.9-11
Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, I was asked a very good question by one of the children, I was asked why I was wearing purple –isn’t purple the colour of Lent, she said? Lent and Advent have a number of things in common, not just their colour. In a general sense we can say that they are both sombre seasons that prepare for the joy that follows, so that white is worn at both Christmas and Easter. But there is something else that unites both Lent and Advent and that is their focus on sin. Each of these two seasons is concerned with sin, but each in a somewhat different way. Lent has a slightly more backward looking approach to sin in that it calls us to do penance for the sins we have already committed. Advent's focus on sin is different: Advent is oriented to the coming of Christ, and Advent is concerned with sin because our sins obstruct His coming. A prayer at Mass this week, on the Thursday of the first week of Advent, expresses this very beautifully when it says that “our sins impede” His coming.

We need to turn away from our sins if we are to enable the coming of the Lord: our 1st reading spoke of how, at past time, the people had atoned for their sins and so the Lord would come to them (Isa 40:1-5.9-11); and our Gospel text has John the Baptist’s call to repentance to “prepare a way for the Lord”(Mk 1:1-8).

The joyful coming of the Lord will not happen unless we first ready ourselves by being purified of our sins. That’s why this is season is particularly important for going to confession, and is why we’ll be having our usual penitential service this Friday night with 4 visiting priests here to hear your confessions.

But in order to confess our sins we first need to see our sins, and this is always a problem. Comfort and complacency and self-deceit all prevent us seeing our sins accurately, and that’s why it takes an effort to examine our consciences, and that’s why we need help to do so, and is why I’ve given you again a copy of a sheet I handed out a year or so ago. I was asked recently about a question on that list, “Have I gone to sleep on time?” Someone wanted to know how that could be a sin, so let me try and explain –because it illustrates a great many other things.

Going to sleep -Of course, some things are beyond our control in terms of getting sleep, like illness or needing to care for a child. But nonetheless we do have a great deal of control, and therefore a great deal of responsibility, for planning and achieving our amount of sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is important in order for us to be able to function the next day.

But let me amplify this further in saying why it is important, and important to God, that you're able to function during the day. The point that we all need to have clear before ourselves is that our life is not our own -my life belongs to God and your life belongs to God. As the parable of the talents that we heard not that long ago reminded us, what we have is on loan to us from God, and we will have to render an account to Him of how we used what we have been loaned:
how we have used our abilities, how we have used our time, how we have used our opportunities, how we have used our initiative -whether we have failed to look to see the many ways that we could be helping others, the ways we could volunteer our time and service to others.
And none of these things happen by accident, they take planning and thought, which is why there are other questions on examination of conscience making that very point.
As Scripture puts it, “you have been bought and paid for”(1Cor 6:20), and so we each need to be living a life that is worthy of being offered to God as “a living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1).
There is another aspect to this too: our lives and the details of our lives have a vastly increased dignity because they belong to God. Even what might seem like small mundane things have actually a great DIGNITY and value, a value because they have value in GOD’s sight. So, something like washing the dishes, which I never get excited about doing, I can resolve to do this well, resolve to do this with dignity, and OFFER it to God, as part of being a “living sacrifice” offered to Him.

Sometimes, maybe when we’re alone and being a bit scruffy, simply picking ourselves up, using the day the best we can, sometimes just doing a single thing with quality and effort, and then OFFERING this to the Almighty, this very fact can give dignity and meaning to our lives -as well as simply doing the more basic thing of using the talents that God has given us as a living sacrifice to Him.
But none of this, none of this using our time and abilities well, none of this can be done if we we’re not rested –thus the duty to get a good night’s sleep.

To come to back where I began. The purple of Advent signifies a preparation for the white of Christmas. And to prepare a way for the Lord we must purify ourselves of sin. We must see our sins, confess our sins, and being reconciled the Lord will leave us ready for His coming, a coming that “only our sins delay”.

The examination of conscience referred to in the sermon can be viewed at:

and as a Word document at:

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