Our first reading, on this second Sunday of Advent, presents us one of the most well-known and beautiful passages of the Old Testament concerning the coming of the Messiah. What is described is the transformation of life that Christ will inaugurate. Christ will establish justice and right judgment for all human relationships and interactions, for He possesses a complete, seven-fold measure of the divine Spirit. People will no longer receive what is good based upon whom they know, how much money they have, how physically attractive they are, or how much power they wield, or any other worldly consideration. Christ, the just judge, will repay everyone according to their works, and the poor, the lowly, the inarticulate, and the unpopular will not be forgotten. Moreover, all of the schemes of the wicked and the ruthless, to oppress, to manipulate, or to exploit, will be put to an end. There will be no more hostility between people, and this peace overflows even into the natural world, with the wolf, the leopard, the lion, and the cobra, existing peacefully with the calf, the lamb, and the child.
So where is this? Clearly, the fulfillment of this vision is not present yet in society. But, the kingdom of God begins within. And even now, to those who accept Christ’s rule in their hearts, Christ imparts the same seven-fold Spirit that is his own. He transforms their hearts, so that they act with justice and right judgment in everything they do regarding others. And he leads them to live with his peace and confidence in their hearts, even when people around them act otherwise. This has been evident in the lives of many saints. The vision of Isaiah ends by saying that people from all the nations of the world will be drawn by Christ; He is a signal for the nations that the Gentiles shall seek out. Clearly, we too are meant to be drawn by this beautiful vision of goodness to want Christ’s coming both in our hearts and in the world.
Our gospel today also speaks to us a message about the coming of the Messiah. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” This is a message which seems to have a very different tone. But apparently, according to John the Baptist, when the Messiah comes, it will not be so pleasant for people who are not prepared. Therefore, they should understand that the time is short; the kingdom of heaven is at hand and even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. And people should avoid presumption, mistakenly believing themselves safe because of past association. “We have Abraham as our father”. And people should understand that the consequences of estrangement from God are dire; there is a coming wrath; fruitless trees that do not bear good fruit will be cut down and burned in unquenchable fire. Who is this guy and under what authority does he speak? The gospel tells us that John is the fulfillment of a prophecy of God. He is a voice crying out in the desert, whose words and testimony are meant to prepare people for the coming of Christ. And John’s purpose and identity were also confirmed in the inspired words of his father, Zechariah, who spoke miraculously at John’s birth saying, You my child shall be called the prophet of the Most High. You will go before the Lord, to prepare his way. John’s credentials and authority and his message are not to be doubted.
So then, is it the vision of peace and justice of Isaiah or is it this warning call to repentance of John the Baptist that is the message we are to receive today on this second Sunday of Advent? Yes. It is evident that both messages are necessary for us as we prepare. And we should know without any doubt that Christ is coming to each one of us, at the proper time, a time which only the Lord knows.
But today’s gospel also focuses us on our own calling to be a prophet. Besides preparing ourselves, we have a responsibility and a mission, out of love, to go before the Lord and prepare his way, just as John the Baptist did. In yesterday’s Mass, the gospel spoke of Jesus looking at the vast crowd. They were so many. His heart was moved with deep pity for them. Seeing them like sheep without a shepherd, he said, the harvest is plenty, laborers are few. Ask the master of the harvest to send laborers for his harvest. Laboring for his harvest, this was John the Baptist’s mission, to draw people to the salvation that God had prepared for them and that God offers them. Do we have need for such people, today? Yes, absolutely. In every age there are those who need to hear the gospel proclaimed. But in our age in particular, there has been a steady decline in the number of people who say they pray regularly, who attend church services regularly, and even who simply identify themselves as Christian. All of this is seen in greatest numbers among the youngest generations, suggesting that the trend may only increase. The last three popes have written and spoken extensively on the need today, even the urgency, for a new evangelization. It is clear that we too need voices crying out, aimed at turning the hearts of people back to God their Father.
That this is our mission should not intimidate us. For most centuries of the Church, the majority of new Christians came not from the baptism of children, but from adult conversions to the faith. In some ways, this is simply a return to how things used to be. Moreover, the Lord, in asking people to go out and be laborers for his harvest also goes with them and works with them. God will bring about the good he asks of us. We even remember how he sent his disciples out, instructing them to rely solely on him. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep. And the implication is clear that the Lord will provide the keep for the laborers in his harvest.
In this Eucharist, we pray for the grace to be drawn by the beauty of God’s rule and to be renewed in our own efforts at repentance. And may each of us increasingly join in John the Baptist’s mission, helping to return the hearts of God’s children to their heavenly Father. Amen.
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