Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted regularly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click here: Salesian Sermons
This homily was written for a Mass at Salesianum School, an all-boys high school established by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in Wilmington, Delaware.
PROTIP: You can take a look at the readings here. This homily focuses on the first and Gospel readings.
2nd Sunday of Advent | December 10, 2017
Throughout my life as a child I was taught the value of community service.
I remember spending a weekend helping to unload clothes off of a truck for our parish’s annual clothing giveaway
I remember going through boy scouts and helping on different eagle scout projects.
I remember helping wrap Christmas presents in the mall for donations that we used to help buy toys for underprivileged children in the city of Harrisburg.
So when I got to college, it was not a hard sell to convince me to attend a service trip over my spring break. Service was where I felt comfortable.
That was until I actually went on the service trip.
For on the first night of the trip, I was called out in a way that I had not been challenged before.
Larry DiPaul, the director of the program, looked at each of us and said. . . You say you love the poor. Name them.
I found myself unable to do so. All of my service work and I could not recall one name or face.
Before any of us could respond, Larry gently smiled and said. It’s difficult isn’t it? He then went on. See, names are essential in this work. For when you learn someone’s name, you enter into relationship with them. And your life is forever changed.
We do not work in generalities here. We deal with actual people. We deal with actual stories. And we allow these individuals and their stories to shape our hearts, change our minds, and guide our lives.
Are you still interested in doing this week of service?
I have never forgotten that week.
Because Larry was right. When you begin to learn people’s name and stories, you are forever changed. There is no going back once you have entered into relationship with another.
Which is why I find the juxtaposition of these two readings so fascinating.
For in the first reading, we hear about a voice crying out in the wilderness.
A voice that is never named.
And yet, despite the beauty of the promise, the Israelites found it difficult to keep faith in this voice.
For it seems that we struggle to keep faith with ideas or ideologies, no matter how seductive or promising or true.
But in the Gospel, this voice is named.
The voice is John’s voice.
No longer are we dealing with generalities. We are dealing with an individual man with a message and a story.
A man who journeyed into the wilderness, eschewing power, wealth and prestige.
A man whose parents had struggled to conceive a child.
A man who saw the light that burned brightly within his cousin. A man who dared to name the light for the world.
No longer are we simply dealing with an ideology or a promise. We are dealing with a messenger, who bears the truth of his words in the life that he lives.
And as a Church, we have striven to listen to his voice for over two millennia. We have worked to prepare our hearts. For we have allowed John to become a part of our story. We have allowed this man to forever change our lives.
My friends, this is the essence of Christianity.
We do not have a relationship with an idea or an ideology.
We have a relationship with a person, the person of Jesus Christ, the word made flesh.
It is Christ who calls each of us by name at our baptism to enter into relationship with him.
And because of this relationship, we are called to enter into relationship with every other child of God.
For it is Christ who sends us forth to encounter one another, not as generalities, but as individuals with a name, a history and a story.
As we continue through this Advent journey, these readings stand as a clear reminder of the task that falls to each of us as disciples.
Which is that we must learn the name of one another. We must dare to enter into relationship with one another.
Letting that change our minds and hearts and lives.
[My brothers, that is ultimately what your years at Salesianum have been all about. Entering into relationship with one another, moving from generalities to the individual. You know each other’s stories. You know each other’s strengths and weakness. You know what injuries you have suffered, what accomplishments you are most proud of, and what victories still taste sweetest. And years later, when you will not remember plays or scores or records, you will remember individual people on this team and the impact they made on your lives.]
But we cannot stop with the football team or Salesianum. We must work to see the individual in each group we encounter.
So that we:
No longer will hear the “poor”. For we will think of Ricky who was panhandling outside the rectory or Joe who sleeps under the 95 freeway.
No longer will we hear about another young black male being murdered. For we will think of Shawn and how he was the father of one of your students. Or that his name was Brandon and you taught him when he was in middle school.
No longer will we hear of global conflicts in the Holy Land with casual disinterest. For we will think of Tito and Esaias who serve as tour guides in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and are now caught in the crossfire of inflamed tensions.
My friends, Larry’s question still rings true. Once we enter into relationship with another, there is no going back. We will be forever changed. Do we really want this?
Now I can speak for no one else but myself, but personally, I can think of no better gift to this world then each of us being transformed by an encounter with God in and through one another this Advent season.
So go be transformed my friends.
Let us go learn the name of the neighbor that awaits us.
May God be Praised.