2nd Sunday Advent 2010 (5 December )
It’s not easy to hear the voice of Advent above the noise of commercial clutter that swamps our space and our senses counting down the shopping days to Christmas. Advent is about preparing our hearts for Christ but all around us society is in frenetic preparation for what the politically correct like to call the festive season; Christmas without Christ. Instead of being a time of reflection on the kingdom of heaven, these weeks of Advent can be more like a reflection of hell – stress, anxiety, frustration, impatience, pressure and bad temper; heart attack stuff.
The many voices competing for our attention in the market place drown out the voices of Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist.
Isaiah is the voice of hope.
In the extract we heard in the first reading, Isaiah talks about the reign of the Messiah king, Immanuel whose birth he foretells in earlier chapters. In chapter 7 he writes “The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Immanuel comes from two Hebrew words meaning “God is with us.” And in chapter 9 he says “ For a child is born to us, a son given to us; upon his shoulders dominion rests; and his name shall be called: Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Jesus, God with us, is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. In today’s reading Isaiah paints a fantastic picture of what the kingdom of God looks like under the sovereignty of the Messiah king; the wolf lies with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid; a world of perfect peace and harmony; a return to the garden of Eden.
Paul in the second reading is the voice of discipleship. He urges us to make Jesus our role model in our dealings and relations with each other and reminds us that Jesus excludes no-one from his mercy.
John the Baptist in the Gospel is the voice of action. Although scripture doesn’t tell us much about his relationship with Jesus, I can’t help but believe that they must have known each other in their childhood and youth. We know that their mothers were cousins and close friends and John’s mother Elizabeth must have told him many times about Mary visiting her when she was pregnant and how he’d leapt in her womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. Just imagine the two of them together as boys.
John is the voice; Jesus is the Word.
John must have been an incredibly charismatic man to have attracted as he did the large numbers of people to travel to him for baptism. Travel in those days was extraordinarily difficult and not undertaken lightly. The terrain was harsh, inhospitable and dangerous, the facilities once outside the towns and villages were nonexistent and a visit to John in the wilderness would have meant days of walking and sleeping in rough countryside. And yet the people came from far and wide. They recognised that there was a great prophet in their midst and they came to him to confess their sins.
“Repent” says John, “the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.”
The Kingdom Of God will be revealed in its fullness at that time when history has run its course and God’s will reigns unchallenged but it began with the coming of Jesus. Wherever and whenever we encounter the grace and spirit of Christ, we get a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, makes the kingdom a reality in our time and space as he did in person to the people gathered at the River Jordan 2000 years ago. We have gathered here to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; the kingdom is close at hand and we need to repent.
Few of us are worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals let alone worthy to sit at his table.
We all need to be challenged again and again; reminded again and again of the need for repentance. It’s dangerous to presume that we are above the need for forgiveness and change.
Put very simply, repentance is the process by which we recognise those things in our life that takes us away from God and make a change to get us closer to God. It’s like making a U-turn. Instead of going away from God, or ignoring him, we turn around, go to God and choose to stay close. Repentance has more to do with our will than it has to do with our feelings. We may feel deep sorrow about things that we have done but the real issue is what we actually do to make things right and actually do to be better disciples in the future.
And that’s part of the problem that John the Baptist had with the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him for baptism. They wanted to be seen to be doing the right thing but they had no intention of changing their lifestyle. In their hearts they believed that because of their Jewish heritage and religious status they automatically qualified for heaven. Wrong! says John; a good pedigree or job title is not enough to claim salvation.
He talks about the axe being laid to the root of the tree that produces no fruit. The roots are a product of the past; the fruit reflects the health of the tree in the present.
“If you are repentant” says John, “produce the appropriate fruit.”
We all have rich roots deeply buried in our faith and tapped into the living springs of baptism but are we producing good fruit?
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
It’s a real challenge in these weeks of Advent to produce the fruit of the Spirit when the environment around us is polluted with noise, traffic, intolerance, selfishness, rush and perhaps a few friends or members of the family who are irritating.
In these remaining three weeks of Advent let us try consciously be the voices of Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist bringing the hope of the kingdom of heaven and the fruit of our repentance into the lives of those we touch with our love.
Fear not; God is with us.