Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Dec. 6.
One thing I learned in seminary was that as a preacher of God's word, my role is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,
to help those who have it bad and to get those who have it good to start thinking of others,
to forgive the repentant and challenge the complacent, and
to preach Good News of hope to the oppressed and fear of hell to their oppressors, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
The sword of God's word cuts both ways and we see both in our readings today.
In the first reading Isaiah comforts the afflicted with the Good News that the Lord will come with power, with a strong arm to set them free from their oppressors, from their own sins, from their enemies and from the power of Satan. So they should prepare themselves, clear the way for their savior; repent of their sins and put aside their fear. God is coming to comfort, protect and guide the afflicted.
In today's Gospel, John the Baptist clears the way for this savior and comforts the afflicted with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins. But in other passages John afflicts the comfortable with a much harsher message. So when a number of Pharisees and Sadducees -- and other self-satisfied people -- come for baptism, he rebukes them, saying, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming retribution? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!” (Matthew 3:7-8) The reason John was imprisoned and eventually beheaded was that he condemned publicly the immoral behavior of King Herod, who had dumped his wife and taken up with Herodias who was not only his own niece but also his sister-in-law, the wife of his brother Philip -- who was still alive. It was a sick family: rich with ill-gotten wealth, powerful because they oppressed their own people -- and John the Baptist made sure everybody knew it! He afflicted the comfortable.
How about you and me? If you came here today afflicted with worries and problems, Jesus wants to comfort you with the Good News that your savior has come to free you from everything that holds you bound: sins you committed in the past, present circumstances that are beyond your control, uncertainty regarding your future.
But if instead you came here today comfortable and self-satisfied, watch out because afflictions may be on the way. As St. Peter writes in our second reading, the day of the Lord's return will come upon you like a thief. Jesus has already come once and will one day come again to inaugurate a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, we should be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him.
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