2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR A ON DECEMBER 08, 2019 (R. 1: Isaiah 11: 1- 10; Psalm 72: 1- 2, 7- 8, 12- 13, 17; R. 2: Romans 15: 4- 9; Gospel: Matthew 3: 1- 12)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
A man and his wife had a misunderstanding, and they stopped talking to each other while remaining under the same roof for two months. Initially, they both enjoyed it, but after a few days, they started feeling the need to reconcile; however, pride would not let any of them take the first step. At the end of the second month, the man decided to become creative about it. In the middle of the night, he went into the kitchen and began to ransack the kitchen, turning pots, plates, cups, and glasses upside down like one who was desperately searching for something. His wife, who could no longer take the noise, ran into the kitchen and screamed, “What, for heaven’s sake, are you looking for here?” The man then turned to her, heaved a sigh of relief and said, “Thank you, Honey, I have just found it; it is your sweet voice I have been looking for.”
At the end of last Sunday’s homily, we quoted St. Augustine of Hippo to have said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We are all on a journey, a journey from God, and back to God. As such, there is that deep yearning in all of us to gain full and perfect communion with God. We can only gain perfect peace when we achieve that perfect harmony with God. The yearning for this communion remains in us whether we recognize it or not. Sometimes, we consciously or unconsciously fight against it, but that does not take it away. This longing for harmony with God also implies a yearning for harmony with our neighbors. If I yearn to be united with God, and you yearn to be united with God, then we both want to be united with each other.
In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, at the point of original innocence, creatures were in harmony with God and with one another. But when Adam and Eve sinned and lost their innocence, there came a long distance between God and His creatures; there came mutual misunderstanding and suspicions among creatures; creatures turned against one another, and that original peace was lost.
The Prophet Isaiah shares with us today in the first reading, a dream which promises the return of that lost harmony. He describes it as a situation where “…the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid (a young goat); the calf and the young lion shall browse together,” and the beauty of it is that they will have “a little child to guide them.”
On the question of when this will happen, the prophet answers in terms of Jesse’s family. He says, “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots, a bud shall blossom. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him…” Jesse was the father of King David, and God had promised David that his dynasty shall last forever, but due to the infidelity of the descendants of David, God had to cut down the family tree to become a stump, a symbol of lifelessness. Isaiah’s prophecy implies that even though the family has been cut down like a stump, a shoot shall grow and blossom from that stump, and then the harmony that we have been yearning for will be achieved.
Jesus Christ, whose coming we prepare for in Advent, is the shoot that has sprouted from the stump of Jesse. His mission is a mission of reconciliation. His hanging on the cross shows us the sign of vertical and horizontal reconciliation. He came to reconcile God to humanity and humanity with one another. It is because he came that we can be gathered here today as one family. Ordinarily, as a result of differences in gender, in age, in race, in economic status, etc. we would have been enemies to one another, but because of his work of reconciliation, we can gather as brothers and sisters, and even have someone we are not biologically related to as a Father (Priest) to us.
Advent is a time of expectation and hope. John the Baptist warns us in the Gospel passage to free ourselves of all that can fight against the peace that Christ brings at Christmas. When the Sadducees and the Pharisees came, he warned them not to depend on the fact that they are children of Abraham, he warned them to produce good fruits as evidence of their repentance. To the Jew, Abraham was so unique in his goodness and favors that his merits sufficed not only for himself but also for all his descendants. They take it for granted that heaven is an entitlement for all Jews. They say that Abraham sits at the gates of hell to turn back any Israelite who, by chance, might have been sent to hell.
As Catholics, we might also be guilty of the same error. Someone may think that being a priest gives me an express ticket to heaven. Some brag of the fact that they are baptized and confirmed Catholics; some even brag about how many Catholic schools they have attended. But John the Baptist would tell us that if we do not produce fruits that encourage harmony with one another and with God, our Catholic identity would be of no use.
Jesus did the job for us, once and for all. He died on the cross once and for all to bring about the reconciliation that creation has been longing for since the garden of Eden. But he does not impose it on us; the responsibility is on each one of us to get connected to this special grace that Jesus has brought to us. The truth is that even within the Church, the dream of Isaiah is yet to find perfect fulfillment. We are afraid of giving up our selfishness, our hearts that can make us behave towards others like a brood of vipers. This season is the time to reevaluate our lives and ask for pardon for the times we have misused the grace of reconciliation, which Jesus has brought for us.
Remember, Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. We need to prepare a special birthday gift for the Birthday Boy. The best gift we can give to him is to reassure him that what he did for us on the Cross on Calvary is not a waste. The way to go about it is, for this Christmas, think of one person, that family member or old friend that you have stopped talking to, that you have given up on and said, “Never again!” Even if you were the one offended, take the initiative, make the first move, get reconciled with the person, and our Birthday Boy will smile at you, and then, it will truly be Christmas for you.