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God's Word on Sunday: We must lay the foundation for the Saviour

  • December 4, 2022

Second Sunday of Advent (Year A) Dec. 4 (Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12)

The prophecy from Isaiah does not describe anyone we have ever met, or the sort of person seen in the media. Although a descendant of King David, the figure seems to be from another world far above our own. He represents humanity’s hope and dream for millennia — someone who will put the world right. The saviour figure is one who is wise, just, righteous in judgment, incorruptible and filled with understanding and knowledge of God. 

Christians have always interpreted this as a prophecy of the coming of Christ. Over the centuries many have claimed to fit the job description — they would fix the world, make a nation great again, usher in the millennium or bring peace and abundance. Unfortunately, their hearts and intentions were seldom pure: they were governed by lust for power, wealth and control over others. All they brought was division, destruction and misery. 

Humans have a distressing tendency to contaminate and corrupt whatever they touch. But that is the point of the prophecy: when, not if, this figure arrives, it will be the work of God and not human machinations. The proof of this is the astounding description of humanity and creation reconciled with each other and with God. The wolf with the lamb, the leopard with the kid and the cow and the bear grazing together would be enough. 

But added to that is the insistence that a nursling child shall play over the hole of an asp and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. No one would be bitten; no blood would be spilled — all would be safe and at peace. This would be possible because the earth would be full of the knowledge of the Lord. All creation would be conscious of our common origin and destiny. Self-sufficiency, separateness and exceptionalism are all illusory and spring from consciousness still anchored in the material world.

Even if this transformation of humanity is God’s work, that does not mean that we merely sit around doing nothing. Minds and hearts must be prepared; the foundation must be laid. While we wait, we receive encouragement from God, and we encourage one another. 

Paul exhorts his listeners to live in harmony with one another and to receive one another in the same way that Christ welcomed us. How Christians treat one another is the cutting edge of God’s kingdom. We must take care that the cutting edge does not grow dull.

The entire life of John the Baptist was focused on preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah by stirring the hearts and minds of the people. His apocalyptic theological outlook provided more than enough scary imagery for his preaching: unquenchable fire was the image of choice. His call to “repent” meant a complete inner change of mind and heart — not mere moral reform. They had to change their outlook, values and how they treated one another. That was the only way of showing that they had truly turned a significant page in their lives. 

But he saw a group coming for baptism that roused his fury — he slapped the label “brood of vipers” on them. This was not due to the severity of their sins but the superficiality and even insincerity of their “repentance.” They were relying on religious identity — belonging to the right group — just as do many Christians. John’s vehement response was that identity counts for nothing — it is the disposition of the heart and how that is expressed in outward behaviour that classifies a person. He challenged them to show evidence of their repentance in their manner of life. 

As the world begins its journey through Advent in 2022, there is much that calls for repentance and a new way of life. At the top of the list is the culture of violence and hatred we have created through the vilification and demonization of people and groups of different political, religious or social beliefs. Viciousness and unkindness have no part in God’s kingdom. And far too many people are being crushed, ignored or left behind in the economic and social difficulties that we are experiencing. 

Advent is more than a liturgical season in the run-up to Christmas — it is a period in which we are urged to make the birth of the Messiah possible with loving minds and hearts that are welcoming and renewed.