December 6, 2015
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tibe′ri-us Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturae′a and Trachoni′tis, and Lysa′ni-as tetrarch of Abile′ne, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Ca′iaphas,[a] the word of God came to John the son of Zechari′ah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be brought low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Being the good boys and girls I know you all are, I know you were here last week for the beginning of the series of this Advent when Father John preached about conversion. Well, in that homily, he actually made mention of the most popular 100 toys over the last so many years, whatever. And, in particular, he talked about his little red wagon, and what great joy that red wagon had brought to him when he was young. He even spoke about these things that are called “hills”. He said they start up here, and they end down here. Like Houstonians have never seen an overpass. [laughter] We’re from Texas – if we don’t have one, we’ll build one.
I have a very similar red wagon story, except that its not similar at all. You see, my little red wagon story is about a red wagon that didn’t belong to me, and I have absolutely no fond memories of it. It was my cousin’s wagon. Now, my cousin was the youngest of 9 children – and they weren’t even Catholic! [laughter] The first 8 were all about a year apart. And then there was a 5-year gap to my cousin. And this qualified him as a “gift from God” to his aging parents. And I can remember my uncle, even into our teenage years, calling my cousin “Daddy’s Sweet Baby”. That would have damaged me. [laughter] Luckily for me, I was the middle of 5 children. And I can recall being called many things by my Dad. [chuckling] Not one time did it sound anything like “Daddy’s Sweet Baby”. I actually thought for the longest time my name was “Jesus, Boy”. [lots of laughter] Some of y’all have been called names in the past, haven’t you? [more laughter] Its because that’s how he addressed everything that was addressed to me – “Jesus, boy, what were you thinking?” “Jesus, boy, use your head!” It was years before I found out that was just a term of endearment. He might as well have been saying, “Daddy’s Sweet Baby”. [laughter]
Now, in East Texas, in the little settlement that I grew up in, we have true hills. They’re called “clay hills”. And when we rode down the wagon of Withers Cemetery Hill, it was a clay hill. And the clay hills would bake in that hot Texas sun in East Texas. And there would be sections of it that would seem like paved roads. And then there would be, as you get toward the bottom of the hill, the dust would start to gather and it would get really thick and it would just stop you, where you couldn’t go any further. And so, we were really disappointed, my cousin and I. And so, luckily, beside Withers Cemetery Hill there was a deep ditch that the water would run down from the crown of the hill and it would cut through the clay. And there were no cars driving on it, so it was baked hard, and there was no dust there at all. And so, my cousin and I the idea that would make it extremely fast. And so, we went up and looked down this hill – a very, very steep hill – and we saw all the holes, we saw all the bumps and everything in it. But we figured that we were going to be going so fast, we wouldn’t even notice the bumps. [laughter]
Standing at the top of that hill, looking down, I thought to myself, “This is going to be so much fun.” I had the freedom to choose to either go down that hill reaching speeds that no little red wagon had ever gone down before, or I could appear to be a chicken in front of a guy that someone called “Daddy’s Sweet Baby”. [chuckles] I chose to ride. So, as we started over the top of that hill, I realized what a really bad choice I had made. [laughter] It was fast – it was extremely fast. But not fast enough to take away all those holes and all those bumps. I was thrown around so much that even my ancestors got bruised! [laughter] About a quarter of the way down, I realized that I was on an out-of-control, very rough and very scary ride. And the sad thing is that I didn’t have anyone to reach out to to give me comfort. I didn’t have anyone to give me strength or to reach out and save me. No one to hear my cries of terror. I was at the mercy of my conqueror – that little red wagon. And despite ourselves, we reached the bottom in one piece. And even though my cousin had to help me pry my fingers from the metal of that wagon, we were safe. But that’s the reason I have no fond memories of red wagons.
Now I share this story because it’s a great example of the human condition. At the top of that hill, I was bullet-proof. I didn’t need anyone – I didn’t need anything. And then as we started down, I was excited, only to give in to absolute terror. Then I wanted someone to reach out and save me from myself. Does anyone else in here recognize that as the story of our lives? When everything is going well, we don’t need God. In fact, we can find ourselves easily slipping into idolatry, being unfaithful and disobedient to God. Suddenly movie stars, entertainers and sports figures are our new idols. They have become our new pagan gods. We get so caught up in the instant gratification, we willingly become slaves to money, big houses, nice cars, and lavish lifestyles.
Father John spoke last week about the word “carousing” and what does that mean in terms of today. Drugs, alcohol, idolization of pop figures, greed and giving into our carnal desires are carousing. God should be the center of our lives, but we find all kinds of things to replace him when times are good.
Last week’s scripture had Jeremiah saying to the people, “Be quiet and await the Lord.” But when we take God from the center of our lives and place ourselves there, we feel that we have no need to wait on the Lord. They ignored the voice of Jeremiah, and because of that, God allowed them, the best and the brightest of the Jewish people, to be taken away into exile, sent to every corner of the known world. And, in doing so, He was actually beginning a good work in them, as we hear St Paul say in his letter to the Philippians today. “I am confident of this, that the one who began the good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” You see, God works miracles, even when he hasn’t got anything to work with.
After a few years in exile, when the Jews began to believe that God had totally forsaken them, and they cried out, and as always, our loving God gave them what they needed – another voice. One of hope promising sweet freedom. The voice of Baruch, who was Jeremiah’s secretary and cousin.
And while Jeremiah called the Jews to conversion, Baruch offers a promise of freedom. “Rise up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children, gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One. Led away on foot by their enemies they left you; but God will bring them back to you, born aloft in glory, as on royal thrones.”
This is what a relationship with God will give you. Freedom. Not to do whatever we desire, but rather, the freedom to choose to do good without having to answer to a conqueror.
God is the center of our lives, and everything emanates out from Him. And. we also know that we are not the reason for al the good things that happen in our lives. We know that’s God. Again, its when we take God from the center of our lives, substituting ourselves, or whatever it is that we desire, that things get completely out of kilter. That’s when we find ourselves, captive to that little red wagon, out of control with nothing to hold onto. No God, no freedom. The Creator loves his creation so much, that He gives us everything we could ever need, even to the very air that we breathe. And then, on top of that, He gives us the ultimate freedom – to choose to turn to Him or turn away from Him. He does not change, we’re the ones who change. There’s nothing that we can do to make God love us more. And likewise, there is nothing that we can do to make God love us less. Because God is a God of love, as we in 1 John Chapter 4, Verse 16 – “God is Love.”
And so, when we cry out from our own out-of-control little red wagon, this God of Love once again reaches out to us and he plucks us up to His loving arms. We cannot dig a hole so deep that God cannot come and get us. And He makes it so easy for us when we choose to come back. As we hear in Baruk, “For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low. And that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.” And then we hear that language echoed as Luke quotes Isaiah, “Ever valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.”
So, we find ourselves in a wasteland of our own making. Just know that God is waiting there, calling out to us to conversion. And only when we are safely back in a loving relationship with God will we know true freedom. And from that freedom, we will experience the joy of doing good for others. And then we’re going to want to take that great work that God had done in us and share it with others through mission.
Coincidentally, joy is a voice that we will hear next week, and mission will follow the week after as the last voices in this series of the Advent Season. But it is important that you pick up a bulletin. Because what you should take away from this, today’s homily in the series is located here. And below that, how to take it further. And then it gives you an area to go to to take it even deeper. And that is on page 6, upper right-hand corner, where it talks about our web site called FORMED, that has so much information that will help us enrich our faith because it is why we are Catholic.
Father has given each of us a subscription to this. The parish code is located right here. It’s a code that, because I don’t have glasses, I’m not going to read to you all. But its there. But you go to FORMED.ORG and put in the code. You can make your username and password. You can go in there and get tons of information. And that is what we need to do to make sure that we have the freedom of a loving relationship with God.
So, today, I just ask that God bless each of you during this Advent season, as we look forward to the coming of the King, who saved us. And remember to choose to love one another, to choose to do good for the sake of doing good, and always remember to be leery of little red wagons.