2nd Sunday Advent A - Homily 4

Homily 4 - 2016

Another beautiful Advent reading from Isaiah again this week, not about God wielding authority over the nations directly, as in last week’s reading, but working this time through what the prophet called “a shoot sprung from the stock of Jesse”, that is, a ruler from the House of David, who would bring peace to the world, “The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion cub feed together, the cow and the bear make friends, the lion eats straw like the ox. They do no hurt, no harm, on all my holy mountain, for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters swell the sea”. Natural enemies getting along together.

“The country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord”. Yet, I wonder. Isaiah can still somehow find no incongruity in claiming for this “shoot sprung from the stock of Jesse” that “his word is a rod that strikes the ruthless, his sentences bring death to the wicked”. Is that what God really wanted him to do? Isaiah was not alone in having those sentiments. At the moment the Victorian Government is threatening to jail the troublesome juvenile offenders previously housed in the Juvenile Detention Centre at Parkville, in one of the State’s adult prisons along with hardened criminals.

In the Gospel reading today we had John the Baptist proclaiming, “any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire” and again, in a second metaphor, “the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out”. Was he referring to the same fire when he said of the one who would follow him, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”?

Is that what God would want Jesus to do?

Isaiah dreamt of the country being filled with “the knowledge of the Lord”. John called his listeners to “Repent”. “Repent” is a deceptively inadequate translation for what really refers to a radical growth in understanding that opens people up more to the mind of God and to their grasp of reality generally. Both equip people to move from “either/or” thinking, from categorizing things according to black and white, yes or no, in-group/out-group, good/wicked, right/wrong. They open people to nuance, to both/and, to “on the one hand” as well as “on the other hand”. For example, do you, do I, qualify as “wheat or chaff”? Do you, do I, produce “good fruit or bad fruit”. I don’t know about you, but I am a mixture of wheat and chaff, and I produce both good fruit and bad fruit.

John insisted that “the kingdom of heaven” was “close at hand”. It still is. But to recognize it, we need a fair dose of Isaiah’s “knowledge of the Lord”. We need to have progressed a fair distance along John’s path of “repentance”. We learn to see God everywhere, in ourselves, in each other, even in violent juvenile delinquents. No one is hopeless. We can always hope for change. God does not close his eyes to the reality of anyone or any situation. God sees clearly the world’s, and people’s, wickedness. But God at the same time can see the potential in everyone and in any situation. Juvenile delinquents need effective rehabilitation, not sterile punishment. Jesus rejoiced in being able to reveal to his disciples the mercy of God. And we can learn to see that God, too – everywhere and always.

I love the way that St Paul, in today’s second reading, could write, “Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope”; and how he went on to rejoice in how the action of Jesus was directed “to get pagans to give glory to God for his mercy”.

Our “knowledge of the Lord”, the work of “repenting”, are never complete. We can keep going deeper until the day we die – and it gets better and better.