HOMILY FOR THE 2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Readings: Bar. 5:1-9/Phil. 1:4-6, 8-11
Gospel: Lk. 3:1-6
In just a few short weeks, we will celebrate the Feast of Christmas. Most assuredly, we will hear the timeless carol, “Silent Night” which this Christmas will mark 200 years since its debut. This classic song reflects the moment just after the birth of Jesus where the world was touched by the Divine and brought peace to the world. As we hear the song sung, and when we join into its verses, we understand that when Christ is present in our world, we find ourselves in a place of grace and contentment.
This feeling is one that we all have had and always try to strive for each and every day. It is the feeling that comes upon us whenever we have achieved a level of balance in our lives. It is a feeling that can only be referred to as stillness. It is a quality that tells us that what we are doing has a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives. It is that sensation that everything we do and everyone we encounter is enhanced by the Grace of God so that anything we encounter that would normally cause us pain is inconsequential. So no matter what happens, our sense of stillness elevates our work, our homes and our lives into a place where everything becomes second nature.
I recently started reading a book called “Meditations Before Mass” by Msgr. Romano Guardini. This book is a collection of essays that he gave to his congregation before each mass so they may gain a better understanding of the mystery that they were about to embark: The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Of the many subjects that the good Msgr. embarks, the one that begins the book is the one on stillness. He observed that when the Mass is celebrated properly, “there are moments in which the voices of both priest and faithful become silent.” Every moment, proclamation and response that is made becomes a dance of “watchful, prayerful participation.” Msgr. Guardini defined stillness as “the tranquility of the inner life, the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream…a collected, total presence, a being all there, receptive, alert, ready (with) nothing inert or oppressive about it.” It is not just being silent, but having every part of your being becoming still; so still that we are able to hear, understand and obey the voice of God.
It is easy to be silent. All it takes is to not talk. But being silent is not being still. Being silent cannot stop the noise inside your head and calm the anxiety within your body when you are in a place that you either do not want to be or in a situation that we wish would be over soon. The things of this world have taken us over and has reduced our lives to just a grocery list of things that we need before we can be satisfied.
We see this sense of anxiety in the Scriptures being proclaimed during the Advent Season. Whenever we tell a story, we generally have to set the scene for our listener. We talk about when the story takes place, where it takes place and what was going on at the time the story began. For example, each “Star Wars” movie begins with an introduction laying out the situation prior to the start of each film. Shakespeare had a chorus introduce his plays to the audience with an introductory soliloquy, as in Romeo and Juliet, “Two Households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona where we lay our scene…” These introductions help the listener understand the story being told by giving it context.
In the Gospel proclaimed today, Luke sets the stage for his story by setting the time period in which he begins this tale: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee…” and so forth. Luke re-introduces John the Baptist to the listener. This is in fact the third time John the Baptist is mentioned in Luke’s Gospel. And each time, he is mentioned before Jesus, to foreshadow John’s place in salvation history. His ministry was not just to let the Jews know the Son of Man was coming, but also to be a reflection of what was going on in their world that brought them to this point.
John the Baptist spoke on the lack of stillness going on in the lives of the Jews and tried to help them find it. He preached in the wilderness and offered his followers baptism for the forgiveness of their sins. When he was asked what can be done to be saved from the wrath that they feared was to come, John spoke to them to be generous in their abundance and not take from another’s prosperity. This was his way for them to be prepared for the coming of the Messiah; to show how stillness can be achieved in a world that many had been told was slowly dying and ready to be destroyed by outside invaders at any moment.
While “Silent Night” is a song about stillness in the presence of Christ, its origins tell a slightly different story. When Fr. Joseph Mohr wrote the lyrics in 1816, the Napoleonic Wars had just concluded, which caused a major shift in the boundary lines of all European countries. As a result, the Principality of Salzburg, which was under Church control, was divided between Austria and Bavaria. No one knew at the time if these changes would enable the area to be successful, which enabled Fr. Mohr to pen those words that, two years later, he would give to Franz Gruber and set them to music. And that evening, at Midnight Mass, the song was debuted and became the most popular Christmas song in the world.
Fr. Mohr, like Msgr. Guardini, envisioned a kind of stillness in the world that can only happen when we have Christ in our lives. In a world that we think is in chaos, we turn to Christ for calm. It is in those times that when we find ourselves in times of distress, the words of Fr. Mohr, the music of Franz Gruber and the inspiration of the Incarnation will allow us to find the stillness we so desperately desire in our lives. We can then understand the words of John the Baptist today, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” With that preparation, we embody the final stanza of “Silent Night”: “Silent night, Holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light. Radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus Lord at thy birth, Jesus Lord at thy birth.”
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK
 Guardini, Romano. Meditations Before Mass (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1939), 3,5.