Advent: Docility to God’s Grace

A Sermon preached by Fr. Louis Kerfoot, CMRI on the Second Sunday of Advent (1998)

My dear friends, today’s Gospel relates how St. John the Baptist, having been imprisoned for rebuking Herod for living with his brother’s wife, sent two of his disciples to ask Christ if He is the Messias: “Art Thou He Who is to come, or look we for another?”

Did John the Baptist know that Jesus Christ was the Messiah?

As the Precursor of Christ, John the Baptist had the mission of preparing the way for the Messias. Why, then, did he send his followers to Christ? Was it so that he himself might know whether or not Jesus is the Messias? Certainly not. John the Baptist knew that Jesus Christ was the Messias. He had even pointed Christ out to his followers at the Jordan. In the first part of the Gospel of St. John, we read how he baptized Christ, of Whom he said, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world.” The Baptist was telling his disciples that this was He for Whom he had been preparing the way. The next day St. John the Baptist again pointed out Christ walking along the Jordan, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.” This time two of his disciples got up to follow Christ. Isn’t that interesting? Even though the Baptist’s whole mission was to point the way to Christ, even though he taught his followers about the Messias and told them that His coming was imminent, when he pointed out Our Lord, his disciples did nothing. One would have expected them all to follow Christ immediately that first day, but none of them did. The next day, only two got up to follow Him.

This tells us a great deal about human nature – people have their preconceived ideas. When St. John the Baptist pointed out Christ as the “Lamb of God,” his disciples probably looked at Him and thought, “This man? No, He can’t be the Messias.”

Annibale Carracci, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Even after St. John was imprisoned, his disciples still clung to him. That is why he sent his disciples to question Jesus. They had not listened to their master; perhaps they would listen to Jesus Himself. And so these men went to Christ and asked Him,” Art Thou He Who is to come or look we for another?” Our Lord answered them: “Go and tell John all that you have heard and seen.”

What did they see? Christ tells us – the miracles that He worked. And what did they hear? While they certainly must have heard His preaching, as disciples of a prophet they were probably disposed to be critical. They would have heard some of the talk of the crowds that gathered around Christ. They would have heard, first of all, people like Andrew and Philip. When Andrew first met Christ, he said to himself, “This is the Messias,” and ran to tell Peter. Philip did likewise when he first met Our Lord. Others in the crowd had been cured by Christ and had followed Him out of gratitude. Some of those present had not yet taken a stand, but came because of all they had heard. Still others said that although Christ did much good, He did not obey the law- He did not keep the Sabbath, and He ate with sinners. Finally, there were those who hated Christ- the scribes, the Pharisees, the leaders of the Jews-those who came only to try to destroy Him.

Notice the final words of Our Lord when He told these disciples to relate to John the Baptist all that they had heard and seen: “Blessed is he who is not scandalized in Me.” How could Jesus be a scandal? Certainly Jesus could not have given scandal. Remember how Christ stood before the chief priests, His enemies, and said, “Which of you can convict me of sin?” They could say nothing. But although Christ Himself could not be a scandal, there were those who took scandal at Him. These people saw His miracles and said that He worked them by the power of the devil, and that He had power over demons because He was possessed. My dear friends, stop and think about this. There were people who actually came into contact with Almighty God, with Infinite Goodness, and responded by accusing Him of being possessed. That was why Our Lord warned the disciples of the Baptist, “Blessed is he who is not scandalized in Me.”

The Gospel does not tell us what happened to these disciples. They may have tried to compare John and Jesus. After all, John, who came out of the desert clothed in camel skin and eating wild honey and locusts, looked like and spoke like a prophet. Even those who didn’t like him recognized him as such. Jesus, on the contrary, did not live austerely, and ate with sinners, forgave sinners. St. John the Baptist fasted. A true hellfire and brimstone preacher, he excoriated sinners – he certainly didn’t eat withthem. Remember how the scribes and Pharisees asked the disciples, “Why doesn’t your master fast? Why does He eat with sinners?” In contrast, Jesus was so kind and meek and gentle that children ran to Him. Christ held little children on His lap. When the Apostles tried to send them away, He said, “Suffer the little children to come to Me.” Finally, St. John taught his disciples to pray. Oddly enough, Christ did not teach His disciples to pray until they asked Him to. The disciples of the Baptist, then, had the opportunity to go home and be very critical of Christ in spite of all He did.

Today’s Gospel illustrates that grace is a gift of God. The Epistle of Christmas morning tells us that the grace of God has been given to us, enlightening all men. Grace is a gift. St. John the Baptist was a gift to mankind, but even some of his own disciples did not listen to him. Jesus Christ, the Messias, is also a gift to mankind. But even among those in Our Lord’s company, few understood His words. Remember, for example, that Christ foretold His Passion to the Apostles three times-but they did not understand Him. The Jews saw Jesus Christ, but did not see that He was fulfilling prophecy. Instead, people took scandal at Him.

Why do people reject the Grace of God?

Christ’s coming was the greatest grace that God could give to mankind. How, then, can people be exposed to so much grace and refuse it? I think it comes down to the fact that one of the biggest obstacles to our cooperation with grace is our own agenda, our own prejudices. Cooperation with grace requires a spirit of docility. For us, as traditional Catholics, that can be difficult, because we are so stubborn. In this sense, stubbornness is a virtue. People ask you, “You mean the pope is wrong?” You answer, “That’s right.” “All the cardinals are wrong?” “That’s right.” “All the priests are wrong?” And so forth. One has to be stubborn to be a traditional Catholic. While we have to be stubborn in one sense, there is another sense in which we need to be docile, submissive to God’s grace. Traditional Catholics can become so stubborn about their position that they lose that spirit of docility to grace that is essential for the spiritual life. In order to cooperate with God’s grace, my dear friends, we must be able to set aside our own agenda.

When St. John the Baptist pointed to Christ, saying, “This is the Lamb of God; this is Him Who takes away the sins of the world,” his disciples must have at least looked at Our Lord. But then they must have said to themselves, “That can’t be the Messias? He doesn’t fit my idea of the Messias.” Yet, let us consider God’s plan. He waited four thousand years to send the Messias. Christ came in the fullness of time, and what happened? The Jewish people had their own preconceived ideas of the Messias, but Jesus Christ didn’t fit that profile even though He fulfilled all the prophecies. Only those who were docile to grace saw Him as the Messias from the very beginning.

Are we like those people who saw and heard Jesus Christ in the flesh, and yet rejected Him as the Messias because He did not fit their preconceived ideas?

If you look closely at Christ’s preaching, you see that He was trying to break down the prejudices of people. He tried to get them to reexamine themselves so that they could become docile to grace. My dear friends, that is how we should spend Advent – by examining ourselves to see where we are not making use of the graces that God is giving us. During Advent we hear and read about prayer- but do we pray? We also hear a lot about the graces of the Mass and sacraments, and how to prepare for them – but how fervently do we attend Mass and receive the sacraments? During Advent we hear about virtue, especially charity, the primary Christian virtue. There is a tradition that whenever St. John the Evangelist, in his old age, was asked to preach, he would say simply, “My little children love one another.” This man had lived with Jesus Christ, had touched Him, had laid his head on His Heart at the Last Supper, had witnessed the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension. And yet all he could say, over and over, was “My little children, love one another.” When people complained that he always said the same thing, he answered, “This is the fulfillment of the law. He who does this does all.” What does St. John understand that we do not?

Certainly, too, we know that humility is necessary for the spiritual life – but, my dear friends, how do we accept humiliations? And we say that we understand that we are instruments in God’s plan – but do we let ourselves be used as instruments? Or do we let our own agendas get in the way? Are we like those people who saw Jesus Christ in the flesh, and yet rejected Him as the Messias because He did not fit their preconceived ideas? Is it not clear, then, that we should prepare for the coming of Christ by stripping ourselves of our own agendas and striving to become more and more docile to God’s grace?

A beautiful passage in today’s Epistle can be applied to this concept. St. Paul writes, “Now the God of patience and comfort grant you to be of one mind towards one another, according to Jesus Christ, that with one mind and one mouth you may glorify God.” Further on he writes, “… the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace.” Why does St. Paul combine these ideas? He refers to that spirit of Christian charity that ought to unite the Church, or, for that matter, any body of Catholics. Why does he speak of “the God of patience?” Because in any community, it requires patience to bear with one another. Patience and suffering is necessary to develop one heart and one mind in our worship of God, for each of us must strip ourselves to some degree of our own agendas, our own lights, our own viewpoints. We must learn to see that what “I want” is not as important as what God wills.

Finally, St. Paul goes on to say: Nowthe God of hope fill you with all joy and peace.” Some people-Christ’s enemies -were actually filled with hatred upon meeting or hearing Christ; they certainly were not at peace. Others, on the other hand, were filled with joy upon meeting Him. Why? Because they understood Who He was. When Andrew met Our Lord, he was so filled with joy that he ran to tell his brother Peter, saying, “We have found the Messias.” Why did Andrew have that joy and peace? Because he understood the Will of God.

Advent, then, is not simply a preparation for Christmas. We need to search deeper than that. What is preparation for Christmas about? It is about the coming of Christ into our life; it is about letting Jesus Christ come in to our hearts and minds. How do we do this? By examining ourselves to see if we are truly docile to God’s grace. We must seriously examine ourselves to make sure that our agendas, our hidden desires, do not get in the way of that grace. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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