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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Comfort you, comfort you my people, says your God. Speak comfortably to Jerusalem; and proclaim to her, that her service is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received of Yahweh's hand double for all her sins.
The voice of one who cries, Prepare you in the wilderness the way of Yahweh; make level in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain: and the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken it.
You who tell good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain; you who
tell good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with strength; lift it
up, don't be afraid; say to the cities of Judah, Behold, your God! Behold,
the Lord Yahweh will come as a mighty one, and his arm will rule for him:
Behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will
feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arm, and
carry them in his bosom, and will gently lead them with care.
2 Peter 3:8-14
But don't forget this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the
Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is
not slow concerning his promise, as some count slowness; but is patient
with us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to
repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night;
in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements
will be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are
in it will be burned up. Therefore since all these things are thus to be
destroyed, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy living and godliness,
looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, by reason
of which the heavens being on fire will be dissolved, and the elements
will melt with fervent heat? But, according to his promise, we look for
new heavens and a new earth, in which dwells righteousness. Therefore,
beloved, seeing that you look for these things, be diligent to be found
in peace, without blemish and blameless in his sight.
The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it
is written in the prophets, "Behold, I send my messenger before you, Who
will prepare your way before you. The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
'Make ready the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight!'" John came baptizing
in the wilderness and preaching the baptism of repentance for forgiveness
of sins. All the country of Judea and all those of Jerusalem went out to
him. They were baptized by him in the Jordan river, confessing their sins.
John was clothed with camel's hair and a leather belt around his loins.
He ate locusts and wild honey. He preached, saying, "After me comes
he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to
stoop down and loosen. I baptized you in water, but he will baptize
you in the Holy Spirit."
* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published
numerous articles and reports.
* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.
For your convenience, the
Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the
Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©
1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C.,
may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic
** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.
these words are very familiar to you. We say them very frequently in our
Eucharistic Prayer: One day you will come again in the fullness of your
glory. Then, in your kingdom, there will be no more suffering, no more
tears, and no more sadness.
It’s a proclamation of the reign of God. This is what St. Peter is referring today when he says, “We wait for a new heaven and a new earth in which justice reigns.”
The reign of God is a time of total peace, a time where justice prevails among all the peoples of the earth. It is a time when each of us, and every person, can experience the deepest and fullness of life and joy, coming to our full humanness as a kind of person God created us to be -- the reign of God.
As I mentioned last week, during this season of Advent, it’s the reign of God that we’re preparing for during this season, not Christmas. Jesus was born into human history 2,000 years ago. That happened, that extraordinary intervention on the part of God into human history. We’re not preparing for the end of the world, we’re preparing for the fullness of God’s reign in a transformed world, a new heaven and a new earth.
And, perhaps, like those early Christians that St. Peter was writing to, we begin to wonder, “Is it really going to happen? Is the reign of God going to come about?” But as St. Peter reminded them, “A day to God is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.”
We think that our few thousand years of human history on this earth are a long time, but in God’s eternity, it’s nothing. And so we have to be like those first Christians, reminded that even though it might seem to be a long time to us in the sight of God, it’s happening, it’s happening right now. The reign of God is beginning to break forth.
Jesus said when he first began his preaching, “The reign of God is at hand. It’s breaking forth into this world right now.” And as I’ve mentioned to us, many times, it’s our task as disciples of Jesus to keep on working to transform our world into as close an image of that reign of God as possible.
So, during this Advent season, as we prepare for the fullness of God’s reign to break forth in our lives and in our world, the first thing we can draw from today’s lessons is a sense of confidence.
We take this from the first lesson today when that prophet cried out to the people, “Be comforted. Be comforted, my people. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem. Proclaim to her that her time of bondage is at an end and her guilt has been paid for.”
When that prophet proclaimed those words, the people were living in exile, their nation had been destroyed, Jerusalem was in ruins, the temple had been destroyed, and for fifty years they had lived in brutal exile and suffering. So when the prophet says those words so powerful and so clearly, “Be comforted my people. Be strengthened, the time of your bondage is at an end.” They might have doubted because there was no evidence that it was going to happen. But then, in a very extraordinary way, God chose the Persian emperor, Cyrus, not even a member of God’s chosen people, to bring about their return, to restore them to the fullness of their life in Jerusalem, to reestablish their nation. It happened. What the prophet said was true. God’s word is a word of power and when God’s word is spoken you are guaranteed that it will happen.
And so when Jesus says, “The reign of God is at hand,” God is speaking to us and we can know with certitude that it is happening and that the reign of God is coming into its fullness. We need not doubt for a moment that the word of God is power. What God says will happen.
But then, also, from these lessons today, we’re being taught how we must act so that we can enter into this reign of God; how we must transform our lives like those people from Jerusalem and all of Judea who went out to John the Baptist, confessed their sins and renewed their commitment to God’s covenant. That’s what John was doing through that baptism. It was a ritual that was used for people who wanted to become Jews. Proselytes would go through a ritual of walking through the waters and be plunged into those waters as a sign that they were joining the chosen people who had passed through the Red Sea in order to become God’s people.
And now John said to them, “All of you must renew your own covenant, your own commitment, and pass through the waters again, renew your covenant with God.” And that is what God is asking us today, renew our covenant.
And Mark tells us that the messenger of God is sent to remind us of how we must do this: “I am sending my messenger ahead of you to prepare your way. Let the people hear the voice calling in the desert.”
The messenger Mark is referring to is one of the prophets, Malachi. In fact, that name means ‘my messenger.’ So when we look to Malachi, we find out what God is asking of us. “Now, I am sending ‘my messenger’ ahead of me to clear the way. Suddenly, God, for whom you long, will enter the sanctuary to bear witness against those who swear false oaths, those who oppress the wage earner, the widow and the orphan, and those who do not respect the rights of the foreigner.”
So if we’re going to prepare the way of the Lord, we must heed these words of the prophet; the prophet who bears witness against those who oppress the wage earner, the widow and the orphan. In other words, those who take from the poor and bring about oppression and injustice in the world.
And, at this time, as we come close to the feast of Christmas, I think there’s a glaring presence of a sign that we haven’t heard those words.
In fact, it’s written in a strange place. This a an editorial from a secular newspaper printed yesterday, The New York Times, speaking about what is happening in the United States during this time before Christmas: On the shopping streets and in the malls, the air is filled with a commercial frenzy that falls like snow on passing consumers. The idea of Santa Claus had an almost plausible coherence back in the days when Christmas gifts still bore the unmistakable stamp of the handmade. But even a small child glimpses that the Christmas season has now become, where shopping is concerned at least, the great yearly festival of Corporate Earth. If anyone remembers the North Pole anymore, it’s mainly as an offshore tax haven. Even the underlying moral dynamic of the Santa story has been overturned. The crush of consumers in the department stores, edging their way through the first floor perfume mists, can seem more than a little off the point of the other story that gets told this time of the year. In that story, charity is a more all embracing concept than it tends to be in the mind of a last minute shopper, hastening past the sound of a Salvation Army bell. Somehow, Christmas seems a little stranger every year. The one time of the year when we should be more than consumers turns out to be the one time of the year when we act most like consumers.
Now isn’t it ironic that a secular newspaper would be challenging us this way. It’s not only ironic, it’s obviously so wrong. If we were listening to ‘my messenger,’ God’s messenger, we would understand that what’s happening is so wrong in this world. If you go into any of those malls and get caught up in those crowds, you just become overwhelmed with the consumption that goes on in this country.
Yet, we live within a community of disciples of Jesus, who claim that we follow a principle that no one has a right to keep for his or her own use what is beyond their needs when others lack the barest necessities. And, yet, we have so much more that we need. We fall into the pattern of Christmas consumption, into that pattern of overwhelming wealth when four-fifths of the people on the planet are in desperate poverty.
Obviously, there’s something tremendously wrong with this picture. God tells us, when he sends ‘my messenger,’ to witness against those who oppress the wage earner, the widow and the orphan. God is witnessing against us because we have so much than we need, than we have a right to. We just fall into that pattern of more and more consumption, allowing Christmas to become the great yearly festival of Corporate Earth instead of the feast of the poor Jesus, the Son of God, who was born into this world to show us the way to make God’s reign happen.
And so like those who were called by John the Baptist to be converted, we have to be converted. And that is one of the ways in which we must change our lives in order that the reign of God will break forth within my life.
But then another way is what John the Baptist promises. He says to the people who come to him, “Look, I baptize you with water, renew your covenant with God the God of Sinai. But there will be one who will come who is stronger than I. And that one, Jesus, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
And that’s the baptism we must renew, our baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is symbolized for us when Jesus himself came to John to be baptized. Remember what happened as Jesus went down into the waters for baptism. The spirit of God appeared in the form of a dove and Jesus heard God’s word, “Here is my servant, my chosen one, in whom I am well pleased; the servant who does not take up arms, cry aloud in the street; the servant who nurtures the bruised reed and brings to fullness the faltering flame. That servant who rejects violence, the servant who is filled with the spirit of God, which is a spirit of love and peace, not violence.”
And here, too, don’t we need extraordinary conversion? We live in a culture where violence is so dominate. We live in a country that is rushing to war and so many of us simply go along instead of saying no. We must be filled with that spirit of Jesus so that God can say, “Here is my servant, my chosen one, in whom I delight, who rejects violence, who rejects any kind of killing and only proclaims the message of God’s love.”
It’s very important for us to renew that gift of our baptism, that first coming of the Holy Spirit upon us. When we do, not only will we be converted in a way that will enable us to help make the reign of God happen in my life and to help to transform our world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible, but we will also receive very deeply the gift of peace that the Spirit can bring.
Yesterday, I had a confirmation ceremony at a parish in Warren, Michigan. And you know that when I do confirmations I get letters often from the children or teenagers, whoever they are who are to be confirmed. And so I read through the letters from of all these young people who were being confirmed yesterday. And one of them especially impressed me. This young person seems to have a really deep grasp of what it means to be re-baptized in the spirit, to have that renewal of your baptismal gift through the Holy Spirit and what it can do for you. She says in one part of her letter, “Deep in my heart, I know God will always be with me, remembering this will help me to find peace within my life.”
So as we commit ourselves in this time of Advent to prepare for the reign of God, open ourselves to conversion, conversion to a real simplicity of life, a conversion to justice so that all people share in goods that God gave for all and not for a few, and a conversion to a new coming of the Holy Spirit into us, not only will we be helped to transform our world into the reign of God, but each of us as this young teenager says, can know deep in our hearts that peace of God which comes with the reign of God and which is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I hope then that all of us will once more commit ourselves to enter into this season of Advent, preparing for that time when the reign of God will happen and there will be no more sadness, no more tears, no more suffering, but there will peace and justice for all and a deep peace in the heart of each of us.
In the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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