Life & Soul

If we are to do Advent properly, we must allow ourselves to be challenged

Second Sunday of Advent
Is 11:1-10; Rom 15:4-9; Mt 3:1-12 (Year A)

“Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope …”

The concluding words of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans invite us to hope in the coming of Christ, whose salvation had transformed his life. As the days of Advent unfold, we could learn much about ourselves, and our need for God, from an honest examination of the hopes that drive our lives.

Isaiah’s magnificent vision of the coming Messiah, the “shoot that would spring from Jesse”, brought new hope to a people whose misplaced hopes had brought the nation to the brink of extinction. The promised Messiah would become the incarnation of all that Israel had hoped to become, but through sin had failed to. He would, above all, rest in the Spirit of the Lord, a Spirit that knew nothing of worldly ambition or superficial appearance. His passion would be for truth and justice rather than hearsay’s destructive judgments. “He does not judge by appearances, he gives no verdict on hearsay, but judges the wretched with integrity, and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.”

The words are challenging, especially in a world that values appearances so highly, and so easily forgets the poor. John the Baptist, the herald of Christ’s coming, reiterated Isaiah’s invitation to hope: “A voice cries in the wilderness: prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.”

John’s very appearance challenged the comfortable assumptions of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. He came to them in the clothing of a desert hermit, a stark contrast to the city comforts that had cushioned their lives. His message was both challenging and life-changing. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.”

Jerusalem, together with the whole surrounding district, allowed itself to be challenged. Its citizens left the comfort of town and city to meet John on the banks of the Jordan. There they were baptised in the waters of repentance.

Advent is indeed the season of hope, but if we are to live its spirit, we must allow ourselves to be challenged. Humble repentance always begins with the willingness to leave behind the comfortable assumptions to which we cling. John led the people to repentance, but beyond this Christ alone promised the life for which we long.

“He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.”

May we be gathered together at the coming of the Lord.