Hope, Harmony, Humility
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: "A voice of one crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths:" John wore clothing made of camel's hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! When warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to your selves, 'We have Abraham as our father' For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
The Advent season is one of joyful expectation for Christians as we prepare to welcome anew into our world and our lives Emmanuel, God with-us. The church, with the assistance of today's readings, invites us to prepare for this coming by pondering three great realities: hope, harmony and humility.
Hope - Isaiah, the prophet, was a beacon of hope for the people of Israel. At the time of the writing of today's first reading, the Hebrew people were in great despair. The Assyrian army had invaded their land, sacked Jerusalem and exiled many Jews. Those who remained in the Holy Land were pressed into paying taxes to a foreign government, worshipping pagan gods, and avoiding any worship of the living God in the Temple in Jerusalem. Isaiah compares the ;light of the Jews to a great forest that has been destroyed by axe and all kinds of violence.
In this context, Isaiah prophesizes that God will intervene in a wonderful way and renew the people of Israel. But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse *King David's father), and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him . . . " Isaiah stirs up hope by prophetically proclaiming that God will intercede on behalf of his chosen people in a way that swill shatter their wildest expectation. God will flip the world upside down: the wolf and the lamb shall be guests; the leopard and the kid will rest together; the calf and the young lion shall browse together; and, the infant will play by the cobra's den.
This promise brought great hope to the people of Israel in the time of crisis; however; it also became a prophecy that would be fulfilled hundreds of years later by Jesus, again in a way that extends beyond measure and comprehension. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans looks back through the lens of faith and proclaims, "Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."
God chose to intervened in the darkness and devastation of the whole world, not just the world of one nation, not by brokering peace among beasts of the field and forest, but by the gift of his only begotten Son. God sent his Son to crush sin, Satan and death through his life, death and resurrection. God intervened by doing the unfathomable. He humbled himself, was born of the Virgin Mary and dwelt among us. This moment was so remarkable that we deem it the "fullness of time." Christ is our hope.
Harmony - Jesus' presence, power and focus was not to restore harmony to the lion and the lamb but rather to God and man and among men. The mercy of God justifies all of humanity - it repairs and renews our relationship with our Creator. Gratitude for this supreme gift unites us more fully to Christ and drives us to forgive our neighbor, respect him o her as a child of God and seek to work creatively with one another in building God's kingdom on earth. The bountiful mercy, truth and beauty that flow from God press us to live in gratitude a life of harmony with our fellow man. Jesus has the capacity to break down every form of division and to invite the world to live in respectful harmony.
Humility - In our Gospel for today, we see that John the Baptist's critical role in Christ's mission and his success in pointing great numbers to Jesus did not go to his head. In fact, quite the opposite is true. John said repeatedly in similar ways, "I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." When we stand in faith before Jesus who is life, mercy, truth and the source of extravagant love, how do we not fall to our knees? How do we not melt before his healing forgiveness, saving truth and tender care for each of us? Faith in Christ leads to a humility that is so refreshing because it is so uncommon and so desired.
Our world desperately needs hope, harmony and humility. Our world desperately needs Jesus.