Isaiah 11: 1-10; Romans 15: 4-9; Matthew 3: 1-12
One of the things I remember from this season from when I was a kid, and it may seem a bit odd, is the old Coca-Cola commercials, I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing. I’m guessing many of you remember it. It contained people from all walks of life striving for a world of peace, harmony, and love. It’s a message that we hear quite often during Advent, a more just society. My guess is that it’s something that spoke to me somewhere deep within myself and have held onto it ever since.
Isaiah strikes that blend today in the First Reading in what may be one of his greatest works of poetry, where seeming opposites, contradictions, predators, come together as one, in that peace, harmony, and reconciliation. These prophetic voices of Isaiah, Paul, and John the Baptist are seeking out the better way of life, not only for themselves, but for the people they write and speak. So often they are writing to people who are on hard times. There are grave injustices that go on throughout the book of the prophet Isaiah, including now when it seems as if all has been lost in the family line of David. There has been corruption, injustice towards the poor, widowed, and children. It felt as if there was no hope left in the lineage and despite all the darkness that Isaiah had witnessed in his lifetime, today he offers this message of the one who will come and fulfill the line of David, of course, in the person of Jesus, God enfleshed. Who are the seeming opposites in our lives who need to reconcile? Where are the injustices that are held up against the hope that Isaiah offers? Where is our faith in the face of so much fear and uncertainty? With the death of Nelson Mandela this week, I was reminded of his own understanding that none of us are born to kill and to inflict violence, hold judgments and all the rest. It’s all stuff that we learn as we grow. It becomes attached to us and becomes how we see everything, unable to see beyond the color of skin, where we stand economically and socially or even someone’s faith background. What fears us so often is that we just don’t know where people are at and we judge them rather than challenge ourselves to understand and grow. Our lives are filled with these experiences that butt up against what our faith tells us we should be and what we profess.
It’s what John the Baptist attacks the Pharisees and Sadducees about and we will hear Jesus do the same in the year ahead. They never got along and the only thing that ever unites them is seeking out the death of Jesus. There was also tension between John’s followers and Jesus so we hear these weeks how John takes a back seat, much against those that thought he was the real deal. John prepares the way for the one that unites and brings peace and harmony, God enfleshed in Jesus Christ, who reconciles heaven and earth. Both John and Jesus lead their people and us beyond our comfort zone out into the desert parts of our own interior lives where we hold these tensions, seeming opposites, and paradoxes that continue to not only divide us from others and our faith, but they divide us and lead us to compartmentalize our faith as something we do rather than someone we are. Jesus will take us there and John prepares the way.
During this season of advent the message is often two-fold. Yes, there is that message of peace and harmony that Isaiah prophesizes and dreams of for the the city on the hill. He imagines a world free of oppression and injustice where people can come together as one. There is, however, that message that should challenge us, again to “wake up” from what we lull ourselves into throughout our lives…our own judgments and expectations, our hatred and bigotry, the injustice that we inflict upon others because we too keep our faith as something we do rather than allowing it to enflesh us in our very being. We so often feel comfortable with ignorance towards others rather than seeking understanding and reconciliation. It keeps us idle in our lives so often and now John calls us to repent, to change our ways and to let go of what keeps us from not only experiencing peace and harmony within our world, but also peace and harmony within ourselves. We can teach the world to sing a song of peace and harmony when we first allow it to take hold of our own being, trust in stepping out into our own darkness and confronting what divides our hearts, and in seeking out that little child that leads us out of fear to a life of wholeness and true holiness.