A Reflection by Fr. Kingsley for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A.
Isaiah 11:1-10 Romans 15:4-9 Matthew 3:1-12.
On her son’s 10th birthday, a woman told a story. It was about what happened between her and her baby when he was still in the womb, and how the voice of God changed both her life and that of her baby. When she became pregnant, she sensed an interior voice assuring her that her baby was OK and to take best care of him. A month into her pregnancy, the result of the scan gave her a nasty scare: her child was deemed ‘not viable’ and no sign of life was detected. Nonetheless, she clung to what the voice had said because she believed it to be that of God Himself. Remarkably, the baby developed normally, was born, and was bouncing around celebrating his 10th birthday. What a miracle that came about through listening to the voice of God! That same voice, which spoke to the very heart of that woman, is speaking to us too in the readings, drawing us closer to Him, and giving us a taste of eternal life and salvation.
Who is behind the voices we heard today? In the gospel reading, John (who was the cousin and precursor of Jesus) was preaching in the wilderness about the coming of the Messiah, and was calling the people to repentance. In the 1st reading, it was Isaiah who was passing on exactly the same message. Both prophets were instruments transmitting the word of God to His people in their weariness, as did the voice that spoke to the woman in the story. It was God Himself who spoke through these people. He is speaking the same word to us at this very moment.
Who was it meant for, and who listened? God speaks to each and every one of us now as we listen, to calm every weary heart and mind, to dispel fear and to bring us peace. The description of a wilderness is ‘an unsettled and uncultivated tract of land left in its natural state’. John, whose voice from the wilderness was heard speaking to every heart, symbolises God speaking to us in our personal desolation and isolation. Isaiah calls it ‘a voice crying in the wilderness’ because this voice speaks to us in our desolation, in our psychological wilderness, whenever we feel unsettled, whenever we feel ourselves stuck in a vacuum – in a perceived absence of divine grace – and whenever we are troubled. That voice sends through every part of our being the message of preparing the way for the Lord’s coming – the Lord whose presence brings ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17) to all those who hear His voice and welcome it. So, like the woman in the story, if we hang on tightly to the message of the voice of the Lord, we too shall reap its fruits.
This brings us to the message of today. It is the message of righteousness, peace and joy of the Lord. It is the message of righteousness, because it calls us to Repentance; the gospel reading urges us to ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’. Righteousness is synonymous with uprightness, hence, the quoted call of Isaiah, ‘Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.’ The voice of God is addressing us in our wilderness of sin to live righteously, so that the Lord who is coming will find a fitting place in us. It is the message of peace because the shoot from the stock of Jesse, the shoot on whom the spirit of the Lord rests (the Lord of peace) in the 1st reading, will destroy the wicked and bring about everlasting peace. The type of peace that God brings is vividly described by images of the wolf and the lamb living together, panther and kid lying together, calf and lion feeding together with a child leading them, cow and bear living together, infant playing over the cobra’s hole and the child putting his hand inside viper’s lair. Not one of them harms the other. What a beautiful expression of divine and everlasting peace! This is a message of joy, for when through repentance we are made righteous, Jesus brings us peace in our troubled circumstances and immediate everlasting joy.
John asked the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Who told you to flee from the retribution that is to come?’ From that we can deduce that even the Pharisees and Sadducees were seeking the reign of peace in their lives through repentance from their sins. The voice was drawing them to metanoia, a change of heart. Their thirst for peace must have prompted them to go out into the wilderness in order to seek out that voice calling them to repentance. That voice is the voice of God. It is only God who can draw us to experience righteousness, peace and joy in Him. God not only forgives sins, but He fills us with the Holy Spirit. Out of His fullness the Spirit is given us – the spirit of wisdom and insight, the spirit of counsel and power, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. When the Spirit is indwelling in us, we are liberated from the wilderness. That same voice is calling you and me this Advent as we prepare for the coming of the Lord Jesus.
I conclude with the words of St. Paul. In the 2nd reading he declared that, ‘Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God.’ So, everything you have heard today is said so that you may know how God will help you when you believe His word. St. Paul went on to say, ‘may he who helps us when we refuse to give up, help you all….’ May God help you as you prepare for the Lord’s coming. God bless you!