Thursday December 15, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier†† Third Week of Advent
Reading (Isaiah 54:1-10)†† Gospel (St. Luke 7:24-30)
Our Lord asks us today in the Gospel reading what it is that we were going out to the desert to see. Of course, in its context, He was asking the people that were standing around talking about John the Baptist. But the fact of the matter is that the voice of John the Baptist continues to call out and continues to call each one of us out into the desert. If we are going out into the desert, the question is: What is it that we are expecting to find?
In the desert, as the Lord makes very clear, we are not going to find people whom we would expect to find living in royal palaces. We are not just going to find a reed blown by the wind. Out in the desert, there is not much. It is hot; it is dry; it is not a fun place to be; it is not an easy place to be. The desert can be a very desolate, lonely, and painful place. Yet, at the same time, the people were drawn there. They went out to hear somebody who was dressed in a camelís hair outfit and was eating grasshoppers, but they went out to hear someone who was speaking the truth and who was calling them to repentance.
It is out in the desert, where you are away from everything that clutters your life, that you can hear the voice of God. It is there that you look into yourself, because out in the desert you realize there are only two realities that exist: you and God. That is all. Nothing else moves out there. In the heat of the day, nothing else lives. Anything that is out there is under a rock sleeping someplace, and then there is you. And you realize intrinsically that there is absolutely no hope in yourself. There is nothing you can do to provide water for yourself, to provide food for yourself. It is just you and God. Out there, you can suddenly realize that all of the things we have filled our lives with are really pretty useless. What good are they out in the desert? When push comes to shove and it is just us and God, when all things are put into proper perspective, suddenly nothing else means anything. If we turn the right direction and we turn to God, suddenly we are going to have a realization that we have a lot of repenting to do, because with all of these other things that we have cluttered our lives with, we have failed to fill our lives with God. That which is most important, we completely missed, or at least to a great degree.
Out in the desert, when we are faced with our own self, it is there that we can make the ultimate decision of life: Who are we going to choose? The Pharisees and the scholars of the law, we are told, rejected Johnís baptism, and therefore they rejected Godís plan for themselves. But the tax collectors and the others who listened to John and were baptized by him, they are the ones who acknowledged Godís righteousness. Both went out into the desert. One group thought they knew all about God; therefore, they did not seek Him. They just went out to see what the desert was all about, but they did not plan on being there for long. The other group, on the other hand, left everything behind. They were willing to go out into the desert, they were willing to seek God, and they were willing to repent of all the things they had done.
We too are faced with a similar choice. Each one of us is asked to go into our hearts. There is no desert that is more difficult. There is no desert that is more dry or painful than that of the human heart. God wants to turn that completely around and make it a fertile land, a land that is filled with love, a land that is filled with light. But, for most of us, that is not going to be the case. Right now, it is probably dry and dark. We hear the voice of one crying out in the desert, preparing the way of the Lord before Him, and calling us to go out and join Him. We have the choice to make. Are we willing to make that journey out into the desert? Are we willing to leave everything else behind and go out where we have to face God, where we have to look at all the things of our lives, put everything else aside and stand one-on-one with the Lord and recognize that everything else is pretty useless, that everything else is pretty much worthless when we see what really is important?
Now if we think we already know God then we are only going to look from afar and we are going to reject His plan of salvation for us. But if, on the other hand, we are willing to put everything else aside and have the humility and the courage to go out and face the Lord then we will be able to recognize what we need to do. There we will be transformed. That is what we are being called to. We have the promise that we heard in the first reading that God will never take His love from us. So when we go in there, we do not have to worry that we are going to be abandoned or rejected. All we have to do is trust. We have to have confidence in God, and we have to have the humility to be able to face our own selves with all of our weaknesses and all of our sinfulness. It is there that we will realize that we cannot count on ourselves, we cannot count on our money, we cannot count on anything else that we have. There is only One upon Whom we can rely, and that is God Himself.
That is what we are being invited to, to enter into the desert, and there to make the choice: to choose the salvation of God and to praise Him for His righteousness.
*† This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.†††††††