Welcome to Saint Mary’s Church, Harborne, Birmingham, UK.

Order of St. Augustine.

Archdiocese of Birmingham

“Before all else, live together in harmony, being of one mind and one heart on the way to God.”  St. Augustine.

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                                       Fr. Bernard O’Connor’s Homily

                                           for Sunday 16th December

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John the Baptist

Luke 3: 11-18

During these days of Advent the scripture readings at Mass refer a great deal to John the Baptist, who had a crucial role in preparing for the coming of the Messiah, and in pointing him out when he came.

You are possibly aware of how John was born to elderly parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who had given up expectation of having children.  However the Angel Gabriel promised Zechariah that Elizabeth would bear him a son, who would be called John.

The birth of a child unexpectedly to elderly parents, as described in the Bible is the Bible’s subtle way of indicating that this child was destined by God for a special mission in life.

In the Old Testament there are the examples of Isaac, born to Abraham and Sara, of Samuel, of Samson, and then John.

John grew up and became a preacher, living a very austere life in a remote place, but attracting great crowds who came to hear him preach a message calling them to repentance,.

He baptised them, washing them with water, a symbolic sign of washing away their sins.

Jesus spoke of him,

What did you go out to the wilderness to see?  To see a man clothed in soft garments?  Behold those who wear soft garments are in the king’s houses.  Why then did you go out?  To see a prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  This is the one of whom it is written. ‘Behold I send my messenger before you, who shall prepare the way before you.’

Truly I say to you, among those born of women, there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

That is an extraordinary statement ‘he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the greatest of those born of woman.’

John was virtuous by his own efforts, obeying the laws of his religious belief.  The Jews had the basic Law of God, expressed by the Ten Commandments.

But as we human beings tend to do, they gradually added hundreds of rules and regulations, which John observed meticulously.

In his call to repentance he baptised with water, but it was no more than a symbol,   a sign of hope for forgiveness.

On the other hand, we, even the least of the disciples of Jesus, the least in the kingdom of heaven, we have, instead of a book of rules, we have the Way, Jesus himself, the Son of God.

Rather than leaving us a burden of heavy obligations, Jesus is the model of love, love of God, love of our neighbour, which expresses all that laws would say to us.

Jesus spoke to us of forgiveness. ‘Your sins are forgiven’, he spoke to us of God as his loving Father, as our Father too, endlessly loving, endlessly forgiving.

He enabled us be baptised not merely with water, which is an external sign, but baptised in the Holy Spirit, the water indeed symbolising the washing away of our sins, but also life-giving, adding a new dimension to our lives through our faith and trust in Jesus.

He has empowered his priests to say those consoling words ,’I absolve you from your sins.’

To prepare ourselves then to celebrate the coming among us of the Messiah, the Son of God, we return again to John the Baptist.  He calls us to repentance, by which he means according to today’s Gospel reading to be faithful, honest and honourable in carrying out the ordinary routines of life/, giving examples of the tax collector, and the soldier.

We too listen to John’s call to repentance.

On Tuesday evening we celebrate the Service of Reconciliatiom.  We gather as a community of sinful people, but a community confident in God’s love and forgiveness. 

Each of us is invited to come forward, admit our failings, to hear the words of absolution, addressed to each of us individually.

At the end of the service, well may the priest say, ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord and each other.’

I shall repeat the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord.  Let  your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is near.

There is no need to worry, but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it wrth prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God which is so much greater than anything we can understand, will guard your hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus.

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(For Fr. John Reid’s Homilies please click this link HERE.)http://www.saintmarysharborne.org.uk/homily2.html
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