8 December 2019
Isaiah 11, 1-10 + Psalm 72 + Romans 15, 4-9 + Matthew 3, 1-12
St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah opens our liturgy today just as he opened this Advent season last week. He spoke passionately about refusing to accept things as they are and demanding that God’s people look to a future that is better and do something to bring it about. Today that future is described as a time of Justice, and Isaiah envisions a time when a leader will be clothed in justice and faithfulness. This leadership promotes harmony to the point that even natural enemies will become friends. The vision of this prophet sees leadership that will promote justice and protect the vulnerable.
Ages later, John steps onto the scene echoing Isaiah’s expectation announcing that the kind of leadership and the justice it will promote is at hand. His critique of the kind of leadership under which the poor and vulnerable suffer ultimately leads to his death at the hands of Herod. He was not afraid to speak the truth to power. John’s description of leadership goes far beyond pointing to the Christ who was in their midst. What he says about this one who is to come is far more than a description of Jesus Christ. It is a description of us, of who we must be having become one with Christ, and of what we must do as members of Christ’s body.
We cannot let ourselves “off the hood”, so to speak, by simply turning this into an historical account of what John the Baptist once said in the past about Jesus of Nazareth. This living Word of God speaks to us on this day. The voice of the Baptist is the living Word of God living today and speaking to us about the kind of leadership we must provide in the world of this age. Like John the Baptist, we must hold our leaders to high standards, urging and expecting them to promote harmony, not sow discord. We must expect them to create a just society where people are not judged by appearance or by hearsay, but by the fruits of their labors and life.
There will be no such leadership unless we provide that leadership. All too often leaders are simply mirroring the people from which they come. Paul speaks today about the hope that must come from what was written previously. Well, Isaiah was written previously. He describes us who are born into and found in Christ Jesus. We have been baptized in the Spirit, not just Jesus Christ. We have a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. Don’t you remember that day when the church confirmed this Spirit? The questions this Advent are: “When are we going to put these gifts to work?” or “What are we waiting for?” Someone else?
There is an urgency about this in Matthew’s Gospel, and an assurance that the Judge will come not to judge someone else, but to judge us in terms of how faithfully, fruitfully, and consistently we have become one in Christ. Our best hope is that when that judgement comes, we will have become so much like Christ that God will not be able to tell us apart and welcome us home.