Advent II, 4 Dec 22
To me Advent is a beautiful season of the Christian Year – the hymns are a delight and it is a period, for us Christians, of earnest looking forward. The recent showing of the last census makes some bleak reading as we realise that the number of folk declaring they have no religion at all has massively increased and that those who profess Christian belief over all the denominations has fallen to less than half of our population. Clearly, we need to ask ourselves, each other, and especially Almighty God in prayer, how we might welcome and encourage others to have an encounter with our Saviour!
The passage we heard just now from the prophecy of Isaiah tells of what is to come at the judgement by the Judge who judges the wretched with integrity and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land. He it is who has Integrity around his waist and faithfulness about his hips. There then follows a vision of perfect peace which will be sought out by all and its home will be glorious.
The Responsorial Psalm too speaks of the justice and peace that will flourish in the Day of the Lord.
St. Matthew in chapter 3 of his Gospel tells of John the Baptist coming to preach of repentance for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand and so fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah who said: A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his path`s straight. The description of John wearing a garment of camel-skin with a leather belt and living on locusts and wild honey is remarkable. The locusts might well have been a kind of grasshopper such as those still eaten in our own time by nomads in the deserts of Arabia or, more likely, the locust pods and their beans of the carob tree, sometimes known as St. John`s Bread, which are familiar to those of us longer in the tooth as something we had as children, in place of sweets which were unavailable in the years after WW2. The pods and their beans can be boiled to make a nutricious and healthy soup or puree.
John would have known Jesus from the time when they were infants. It is likely that the Holy Family would have stayed at Ein Keirem, just a few kilometres from Jerusalem, at the home of Elizabeth, the kinswoman of Mary, and wife of Zechariah a priest of the Temple when they were going up from Nazareth to Jerusalem to fulfil their pilgrimage obligations.
It would seem that John the Baptist led the life of a hermit in the Judean Wilderness and yet it seems he was well-known by many for Luke records that folk from Jerusalem, all Judaea and the Jordan area made their way to him and, following his call to repentance, were baptised by him in the Jordan confessing their sins. Then we find him issuing a warning to the religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees even calling them a brood of vipers. Some of his hearers thought that perhaps he was the Messiah later in the accounts of both Matthew and Luke but this he denies telling that one greater than he is coming who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire.. Also in Luke`s gospel he tells his hearers that their repentance and their baptism of repentance must make a change in them that they may bear fruit. A practical thing is to care for others sharing clothing and food where there was need, telling tax=collectors not to overcharge and soldiers not to extort or accuse people falsely.
In a special sense John the Baptist is at the juxtaposition of the Old and New Testament. He is the last and greatest of the prophets of old, the Forerunner of The Christ, the Herald of the New Era.
Just as on Remembrance Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King and last Sunday, the first of Advent we see Christ the Prince and King of peace so in today`s reading the theme of peace re-asserts itself looking back on the prophecy of Isaiah and to St. Paul` letter to the Christians in Rome where there were so many divisions. It was built up of both Jews and Gentiles and some of the divisions were so intense the Paul showed how he knew that he would need to remind the local church who the source of peace is. It is a good reminder for us today as we look at the scandal of division in the churches and among the nations of the world. As we look around us we see both church and the world fracturing over so many issues so that as members of the Body of Christ, His church, if it is to fulfil her calling - our calling as a witness in and to the world, it must return – we must return afresh, daily, to our Lord, who is the only source of peace for the life and witness of the church.
Jesus, in his life, death, resurrection and ascension has brought to us, in himself, the very peace that exists between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We cannot gain peace by our own efforts. Indeed, true peace is only received as a gift of God`s grace
The church, and each of us as her members, live out her witness to the world through her union with Christ, receiving the peace that the Lord gives her. The peace lived out in the church and her members, then, does not become a sign that points to the church, but a sign that points others to Jesus. Have you noticed how that Mary the Mother of Jesus always points away from herself and towards Jesus ? We do well to follow her example!
The Peace and harmony to which St. Paul refers in his letter to the Romans is not something that we work towards but a reality to receive. In living out this reality in our relationships with others, we “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Glorifying God is a way of reflecting who God is. God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, living in perfect unity. This life of unity is a gift given to us in Jesus. As we receive this gift and live it out, we “glorify” or magnify to the world a bigger picture of who God is.