Expectation for the Unexpected
The following is the first homily of Deacon Jim McCormack, MIC, following his diaconate ordination. His diaconate ordination took place Jan. 9, 2010, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington, D.C. Deacon Jim delivered his first homily the following day at the Divine Mercy Chapel, in Brookeville, Md.
First Reading: Is 42:1-4, 6-7
Second Reading: Acts 10:34-38
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 29:1-4, 3,9-10
Gospel: Lk 3:15-16, 21-22
Have you ever really wanted something and not received it? Or perhaps found that a different gift, something that you received later, turned out to be even better than the original thing that you wanted?
I was home recently, visiting my family. It was shortly after Christmas, and my little nephew Reilly, who is four years old, came to my room and sat down next to me. I asked him about the gifts that he got for Christmas. He told me all about the different exciting things that he received, including the big Lego set, which I ended up having to help assemble. And then he told me, "But there was one gift I really wanted that I didn't get." And I said, "Oh really, Reilly, what gift was that?" He said, "A Polar Express train set." I tried to comfort him. I said, "Well, maybe Reilly, you'll get that next Christmas." And he said, "Oh, really? When's that?" And I said, "Oh, in about a year." And he said, "A year!" And he stormed out of the room.
Then my sister tried to comfort him. She said, "Well Reilly, maybe that gift wasn't so good. Maybe next year you'll get an even better gift."
Well, I think this idea helps to give us a little bit of understanding as to what's going on today in our readings, on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord. You see, God is a loving Father who knows what we need and He is always giving us gifts. But sometimes they're not the gifts that we want or that we think we need.
We see a little bit of this in our first reading from Isaiah. It was written about 600 years before the time of Christ. It was the time of the exile. The Babylonians have just conquered Jerusalem. They destroyed the Temple, killed many people, and carted many of the survivors off to exile. The Jewish people were taken away from their land, from their chosen city, God tried to console His people through the prophet Isaiah, telling them of an upcoming Savior who would come to comfort them, to console them, to bless them.
So the prophet Isaiah says, "Thus says the Lord. Here is my servant whom I uphold. My chosen one with whom I am pleased. Upon whom I have put my spirit. He shall bring forth justice to the nations."
Now, about 50 years later, the Persians conquered the Babylonians, and the Jews were able to return. But there was a problem. They still weren't completely free. They didn't have the freedom that they truly wanted, the freedom that they thought God was prophesying, that God was going to provide.
And this situation continued. Eventually, the Greeks came along and conquered the Persians. And by the time of Jesus, the Romans were in power, and still the Jews were not free. They were subject to the domination of the Roman authorities. They had to pay excessive taxes. So what the Jews really wanted was that freedom. That freedom talked about in the Old Testament, that freedom that God had predicted that He would send through His chosen One, the Christ, His anointed, the Messiah. He would be the one to come and set them free.
So you can imagine the sense of expectation and hope of the people of Jesus' day when they heard John the Baptist saying, "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" They knew that the Christ, the Anointed, would be a king and a king provided by God himself. So when they heard that the kingdom of Heaven is at hand, they thought, "Well maybe this is him." And because John was the one proclaiming this, they said "Well, maybe he's the Christ."
And that's what we hear going on in today's Gospel, which begins, "The people's hearts were filled with expectation and were asking in their heart whether John might be the Christ." And John's says, "No, I'm not. But one even mightier than I is coming."
And so, then it happened. Jesus appears and is baptized. The Holy Spirit descends upon him, and we hear the voice of the Father saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." This was the moment of the anointing of Jesus Christ as King. This was the one they had been waiting for. This was the promised gift to God's people, that God had predicted in the Old Testament through the prophets. And now finally it comes.
But there's a little problem. You see, like my nephew, the gift that the Jewish people wanted wasn't exactly what they got. You see, the people wanted freedom from their political enemies, their Roman oppressors. But Jesus brought them freedom from the real enemy, sin. The people wanted to see the glorious reign of an earthly king, but Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." They wanted peace in the world, but Jesus came to bring peace in their hearts. They wanted an end to all their suffering and pain, but Jesus came, not to take that away, but to embrace it himself, even to the point of dying on the cross. They also wanted their stomachs to be filled with bread, but Jesus came to bring them something far greater, his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the Bread of Life.
So we see that the gift that the Father gave to his people was not what they were expecting. It was something far greater.
And this is a pattern, too, that we can see in our own individual lives, sometimes. How often is it that we pray for something and not receive it? Only to find out that what the Lord does provide is actually far greater than what we had been asking for in the first place.
I can speak to this with an example from my own. About 10 years ago, I was happily living my life as an engineer, working in the world. I had a good salary. I was living in Colorado and had the freedom to go skiing whenever I wanted, and I was even engaged to be married.
But it all soon came to an end because, within a very short time, my fiancé broke off our relationship. And soon after that, through a lot of prayer and discernment and a pilgrimage to Italy, I was able to discover how the Lord was really calling me. And I was able to discover the real gift that He wanted to give me. And that was to give up marriage—the great good that marriage is, but nevertheless, to give it up—and to embrace a life of celibacy.
He was inviting me to give up my freedom, the freedom to do whatever I wanted with my time — the freedom of running my life the way I wanted — and, instead, to embrace a life of obedience.
He was inviting me to give up my good engineering salary for a life of evangelical poverty.
And he was inviting me to serve God's people, to serve you, today as a deacon and, God willing, about six months from today, as a priest.
And so, it is by embracing this life, which seems so contrary to the values of this world, I have come to know the peace which surpasses all understanding. And I can truly see it as God's precious gift to me, but a gift that is far greater than anything I could have expected or could have asked for.
And so, may God give us the grace to see all of the events and people in our lives, all the circumstances, no matter how difficult they may be ... to see them all as His gift to us. And to have the grace to thank him, no matter what's going on, whether we receive the gift we want the Lord to give us or not. And to thank him, everyday.
And when we don't seem to receive those gifts that we think we want or the gifts that we asked Him for, nevertheless, let us thank Him and continue to trust in Him. Because our God is a loving Father. He is a loving Father who knows what is truly best for us. He is a loving Father that longs with all His heart to give us the best gifts. And He gives us His Son.