Homily, Advent Sunday 2B
This past Thursday I was in Aberdeen for a little procedure at the eye doctor. Turns out I had two little holes in the periphery of the retina of my right eye. So after probably an hour or more of waiting around, first in reception and then in the exam rooms, along with signing my name and getting drops in my eyes several times, the procedure itself took less than 5 minutes, which just consisted of burning the edges of the holes with a laser. Really nothing too exciting, all things considered. But as I reflected on the readings for this Sunday and the type of comfort that God desires for His people, I couldn’t help but wonder what that conversation with the eye doctor could have sounded like if the standards of health in recent decades had shifted as much as moral standards seem to have shifted.
You might imagine the doctor saying something like this: “Well, we’ve found a couple holes in your retina, and we used to tell people that holes are bad, unhealthy, not ‘normal,’ but you know, some people nowadays actually like having some holes in their retinas, and for them it’s just more of a lifestyle choice. In a number of years, they could lead to other problems—well, we’re not allowed to call them problems anymore, but—other events in your eye, like, for example, the complete detachment of the retina and blindness, but again, I’m not here to make any judgments or to tell you how to live your life. I’m just sharing a little of what I’ve seen and what makes sense to me, but I don’t know your whole story or how attached you might be to these holes in your retina, but if eventual blindness is something you think you’d like to avoid, if possible, there is something we can do.”
You might well respond by telling the doctor, “Well, of course blindness is something I’d like to avoid. Are you crazy?” But this is how a lot of conversations around moral issues are actually conducted today. You’re not allowed to say that certain behaviors or lifestyle choices are actually sinful and gravely sinful, and that if unrepented, they will lead to something far worse even than physical blindness, namely, everlasting hell. But as much as the standards of this passing world have changed, the standards of God have not changed. That’s why when our first reading talks about comfort, bringing comfort to God’s people, this is not contradicted by the preaching of St. John the Baptist, who is telling the people to acknowledge their sins, to renounce them, and be converted to God.
The type of false comfort that’s often proclaimed and praised by the world tends to ignore, make excuses, sometimes even to celebrate or take great pride in sin and perversity. And why would anyone ask forgiveness from God for what they think is just a different way of living, different lifestyle choices? Violence, looting, lying, fraud, just different ways of being human. Who’s to say what’s actually unhealthy, unnatural, sinful? And without knowing and acknowledging our sin, asking for God’s forgiveness, we won’t be receptive to his mercy, to the treatment that He has prescribed for our disease.
Now the one part of my eye procedure that I haven’t mentioned yet—and what was the most uncomfortable—is that to properly aim the laser, the doctor takes a lens and presses it right up against the eyeball. That was definitely not comfortable, but I am comforted in knowing that we’ve done what’s possible to keep it from becoming a bigger problem. And often when we examine our conscience and try to take a clear look at the sins in our life, and as we bring those to the Sacrament of Confession, that can be an uncomfortable experience. But Confession is especially how God chooses to extend His mercy to us, to restore us to life and spiritual health, and to prevent further complications down the road, even everlasting complications.
Comfort, give comfort to my people, says the Lord. Our God comes to save us, to save us most especially from our sins, from the dead ends in life that cannot bring us genuine happiness and fulfillment. God offers us the comfort that the world cannot and will not give. Rather than the false comfort of ignoring the holes in our retina that could lead to blindness, ignoring the sins in our life that lead to everlasting death, God offers us the opportunity for repentance, forgiveness, and healing, if we will acknowledge our sins and strive to follow Christ. Don’t miss this opportunity. None of us knows the day or the hour when the Lord will call us from this life, and following the false standards of this dying world rather than the standards given to us by God and his Church will be no excuse. Repent and believe in the Gospel, for the Lord is near.