JESUS IS MORE OF EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD
(A biblical refection on the SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT [Year A] – 4 December 2016)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 3:1-12
First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalms: Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,12-13,17; Second Reading: Romans 15:4-9
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of Lord, make His paths straight.” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not pressure to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father; for I tell, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the granary, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:1-12 RSV).
In the tradition of the Church, St. John the Baptist has always figured prominently within the liturgy of Advent. He has also been afforded a place of honor among all the saints. Many magnificent churches have been name in his honor. And yet John the Baptist is not Jesus. It might even be observed that John is a foil for Jesus, which is to say that he tends by contrast to set off Jesus to advantage.
The Gospel gives the impression that John was a very serious man, a person without a sense of humor, a really no-nonsense type. He has been caricatured by the Bible pounding, hell and brimstone preacher who exist more completely in movies and literature than in real life. John had a vital message to proclaim, but I doubt very much if you had heard him preach that you would be eager to meet him personally or to invite him over to your home for dinner.
John openly proclaimed that the One to follow him was more powerful that he was. Indeed, Jesus is not only more powerful than John; He is more of everything that is good. We have no way of knowing for certain how much John understood about Jesus. It does not seem that he was aware of the uniqueness of Jesus, who united divinity and humanity in Himself. John prepared the way for Jesus but the reality was much greater than John expected.
And such is God’s way, to surprise us with something much better than we could have hoped for. We can be confident about the future, about better things to come, because in looking to the past we can see how God has been at work. The circumstances behind the first reading today were that King Ahaz, a very weak and unfaithful ruler, had brought the country to such a ruinous state that it was like the stump of what had once been a flourishing tree. The prophet Isaiah promised that God would make a shoot sprout from the stump to begin a new, luxurious growth. This shoot was to be an ideal king of the house of David, upon whom would come the Spirit of the Lord so that the Kingdom could be renewed. Isaiah foresaw a human king, but the Church has a deeper understanding. Reading the passage of Isaiah in the light of fuller revelation, the Church sees the promise fulfilled in the person of Christ the King who proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven. And that is God’s way: His fulfilment is always greater than His promise.
Perhaps at times we become a little dubious about awaiting a better future, especially an eternal one. The reason is that in our human lives we very often experience the opposite of God’s way. People who make promises frequently do not keep them. Advertisements and commercials exaggerate the quality of their products. When something is being given away, there is usually some catch. We must not let our unhappy human experiences dictate our outlook on God and His promises.
During the first part of Advent (through December 16), the Church focuses our attention on the second coming of Christ at the end of time when He will bring His Kingdom to perfection. This part of Advent, like life itself, stands somewhere between the two comings of Christ, the first being His humble birth and the second being His glorious return. No one in the Old Testament era suspected that the Messiah would be divine, the very Son of God. As the first coming of Christ far outshone anything the people had hoped for, so His second coming will far outshine anything we can imagine.
In every Mass, we pray that God the Father may deliver us from all anxiety “as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ”. Our expectation should be a joyful one, filled with confidence in God’s goodness. And our anxiety about the future should be replaced with a trust that God always does more than merely keep His promises. For people of faith better things are yet to come.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, come! I give You the freedom to purge the chaff from my life. Fill my heart with wisdom, strength, and all your gifts, so that I might endure separation from sin and be made a fit vessel of the Father’s love. Amen.
Jakarta, 3 December 2016
A Christian Pilgrim