Dec 7, 2013

2nd Sunday of Advent: A voice in the desert

"Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"

Is 11: 1-10
Rm 15: 4-9
Mt 3: 1-12

On this Sunday we find ourselves back to back with two mighty figures of the Advent Season:  John the Baptist and Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  This year, tomorrow the Church marks the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary; that she was conceived in the womb of her mother without the flaw of original sin. 

Although John and Mary were related their roles in the coming of Jesus were very different yet both played a significant part in his birth and his family life in Nazareth and his later coming on the scene as he began his public ministry. 

As the liturgical year often does, the exact historical timeline is less important than the meaning of it all.  Such is true today.  John the “Dipper” is presented today preaching along the Jordan River, calling groups of people such as the Pharisees and Sadducees,  to “repent” and “prepare the way of the Lord . . .” Yet, this took place about thirty years after the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. So why do we hear this now as we draw so close to Christmas?

Because it is important that we today, in our time and historical period, not lose sight of whom this child born in Bethlehem is.  He is the one who will bring baptism in “the Holy Spirit and in fire” and bring about mighty change in the history of humankind.  Not by means of violence and fear but by the power of God’s mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.  In order that we too might be ready to receive him, we must identify what may be keeping us from making his path straight. 

The scene along the Jordan River must have been something to see.  John, looking ever like a wild man, the wilderness prophet, apparently preaching with passion and fire in his voice, and one who minces no words on what he feels we need to hear.  To the Pharisees and Sadducees he cuts right to the heart of their duplicity:  “You brood of vipers!”  (children of snakes).  Not exactly pastorally sensitive as we may say today. Yet, John knew his time was limited and he had a mission and a message to deliver. The truth sometimes hurts but it can wake us up to see what we may deny.  

If this scene makes us a bit uncomfortable, I suppose that may be the point of it all.  While John’s choices of images are somewhat apocalyptic, their force of immanent change to come about through the coming of Jesus remains.  Change in our lives as individuals, which come about only through embracing the person of Jesus, and change in the whole of society, which is a more challenging event indeed.

In our first reading from Isaiah, 600 years before the birth of Jesus, we hear: “. . . a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse (King David) and from his roots a bud shall blossom . . .” That the Messiah, future born, will be of the line of great King David. Isaiah goes on to paint the idyllic scene of natural enemies of the animal kingdom who now “browse together” and now are “neighbors” whose young “together shall rest” with “no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain.”

Such prophetic imagery affirms for us Christians, that the coming of Jesus is something not to be feared of approached with apprehension but to be celebrated with gratitude and personal accountability. God will advance his plan for the salvation of all the world, both Jew and Gentile alike in the birth of this child.

So, yes the historical timeline for this weekend is far less important than the message and meaning of the person whose birth we will celebrate in about two and a half weeks.  One one end is Isaiah, Mary in the middle, and John the Dipper at the cusp of Jesus’ public ministry.  Still, we need such perspective in our busy, often distracted lives.

It brings us to the heart of the matter.  That this is no ordinary child whose birth we recall each year.  It is a graced time as we journey through Advent to basically get our spiritual and moral lives in order so that we may welcome the Christ born for us.

Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company.
(Collect for Sunday)