|Of the three meanings of Advent in todayís
scriptures, we hear especially about the final coming of Jesus, a moment
that could happen when we least expect. But also, and I think itís
a special emphasis of todayís reading, we hear about how important it is
to make ready for the coming of Jesus into our own hearts, to become alive
again with Jesus born within us. Itís understood most effectively
in the words of Saint Paul when he tells us, ďPut on the Lord Jesus. Be
ready to be filled with him.Ē
Paul is thinking of how people at the time
of the early church were baptized by going down into the water, being submerged,
and then coming up and putting on fresh and new garments. That was
a sign that they had put on the Lord Jesus.
Today, as we reflect on our scriptures, I hope
that we will come to a deeper realization of what it means to put on the
Lord Jesus, to make it happen that Jesus comes alive again in our hearts,
and that we become fully committed to him and follow his way. This
can happen if we begin to reflect deeply on the lessons of today.
We start with the passage from Isaiah, when
he proclaimed a message about peace and how there would be no more war.
People would give up their weapons and not just set them aside with the
expectation that they might be used again, but that they would transform
those weapons into instruments that would be for giving life only, that
is, where making peace really happens in our world. Swords would
be turned into plowshares; weapons would be turned into pruning hooks and
instruments for building up life.
Isaiah proclaimed that message at a time when
he and his people were living in the midst of terrible violence.
Itís about eight centuries before the coming of Jesus. The Northern Kingdom
of the chosen people had been overrun by the Assyrian armies and there
was a great threat to the Southern Kingdom that they, too, would be overrun.
So people were saying, ďWe have to arm ourselves. We have to prepare
for war. We have to respond to violence with violence.Ē And Isaiah
said, ďNo, that is not Godís ways. That is not the way God wants
us to go, into the way of violence.Ē Instead, Isaiah invites everyone
to come to Godís mountain where God will teach Godís ways, the ways of
Certainly, this is a passage that speaks very
directly to us. The time in which we live is a time of crisis, a
time of violence, a time of extraordinary killing and destruction. The
important point of that lesson as we put it into the context of our own
time is whether we are going to go to Godís mountain, to hear Godís word,
to learn Godís ways, to give up our violence, our intention to go to war,
and follow only Godís ways.
It seems so clear to me that we have taken
a great amount of time and effort to learn the ways of war. We have
become the nation that has the most sophisticated weapons that have ever
been created, ever built to wage war. We have weapons of extraordinary
destructive power. We have an armament or an arsenal of weapons that
surpasses anything that has ever happened in all of human history.
We have surely learned the ways of war and we can wage war with great exceptional
ability. Weíre very good at waging war, but have we learned about
the ways of peace?
What has happened because we have learned to
wage war? Have these ways of wars really brought us peace?
We built up this arsenal over many years.
Yet, the result, I think, is what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in that
famous sermon he preached in Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, a year
to the day before he died. He warned the people of the United States.
He said, ďAny nation that continues to build up arsenals of war and weapons
of destruction instead of using their resources for programs of social
uplift is a nation approaching spiritual death.Ē
We are coming close to destroying ourselves
spiritually and, with the kind of weapons that we have, we are also coming
close to destroying our whole world.
Back in 1983, as you know, the Catholic bishops
published a pastoral letter about nuclear weapons. In that letter,
we point out so clearly how we are approaching spiritual death as a people.
We point out that with the weapons we now have, we are in a certain way
making a declaration against God. Because with these weapons, we
are saying to God who has made the whole universe and made this beautiful
planet of ours out of Godís creative love, ďWe can destroy everything you
Thatís a kind of arrogance, an assault almost
against God that brings us very close to spiritual death. Does it
not seem so to you? For any people to do this and say to God in a
sense, ďWe can reverse your power of creative love. We can destroy
it, all that you have made.Ē
One writer has pointed out that even if you
donít believe in God and you donít believe that youíre approaching spiritual
death by what you are doing, remember this: This beautiful planet that
took four billion, six hundred million years to come to the point of itís
fulfillment in beauty where we are now, all of it could be gone in a half
So, as we approach spiritual death, we also
make it possible that we could end human life and the world as it has come
Clearly, it seems to me, we must begin to think
about unlearning, if we could, those ways of war. Or rather more
positively, learn the ways of peace.
Thatís what Isaiah is inviting us to do today.
Thatís what God is inviting us to do through the words of Isaiah. ďCome
to God, come to the mountain of God where God will teach you the ways of
peace and how to build a world that is not self-destructive, and how to
build a world and a nation that is not approaching spiritual death. Learn.Ē
And if we go to that mountain and learn, we
will learn most of all through Jesus. God sent Jesus into this world
to teach us Godís ways of peace.
Jesus has done it. In his words, heís
made it so clear, ďThou shall not kill.Ē Even beyond that, have not
anger or hatred in your heart for a brother or sister. Love not just
those who love you, but love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt
you, return good for evil.
Jesus has shown us the way to peace.
Itís a way that rejects any use of violence. But we have not listened.
It is time that we begin to listen to the way of peace that God shows us
and most of all through Jesus.
Thatís why Saint Paul makes it so clear today.
We must recommit ourselves to put on Christ Jesus, to be clothed again
with our original baptismal commitment, and to follow the ways of Jesus,
the only way that can lead to peace in our world.
Shortly after the terrible events of September
11, John Paul II, as you may remember, was in Kazakstan, a country that
was a part of the former Soviet Union. He spoke many times during
that short visit. One of the things he said so clearly, as soon as
he heard about what had happened in New York City, Washington, and in Pennsylvania,
he pleaded that the response not be war. He was in a sense urging
us to put on Christ Jesus, instead.
Of course, itís not very easy to suddenly give
up violence. Weíve been raised in violence; weíve been raised with
the notion that our nation has to be the strongest nation in the world
and that we have to have this arsenal and so on.
But in putting on Christ Jesus, Pope John Paul
gets to something that is perhaps the basic thing that we need to do if
weíre going to change our hearts and then change our way of acting.
He was speaking to young people and in that presentation he said, ďIn your
beautiful Kazak language, ĎI love youí is men senen jaske korejmen which
can be translated as ĎI look upon you well, my gaze upon you is good.íĒ
And then he goes on to say, ďHuman love, but more fundamentally still,
Godís love for humanity and creation stems from a loving gaze, a gaze that
helps us see the good and leads us to do what is good. God saw everything
God had made and found it very good. (Gn. 1:31). Such a gaze allows us
to see all that is positive in things and leads us to ponder far beneath
the surface the beauty and richness of every human being we meet.
Spontaneously we ask ourselves: What is it that constitutes the beauty
and greatness of the human person? Here is the answer I give you:
What makes a human being great is the stamp of God that each of us bears.
According to the Bible, a human being is created Ďin the image and likeness
of God.íĒ (Gn. 1:26).
And so John Paul is drawing from their own
words saying that what it means to love a person is to gaze upon that person
and see the good in that person, to see that that person is made in the
image and likeness of God.
How easy it is for us to do just the opposite.
We demonize those we want to be our enemies. We dehumanize them and
take away any dignity that they have. Instead, John Paul is saying,
ďThe beginning of nonviolence, the way to begin to overcome the tendency
to violence and war, is to think of every person and gaze upon every person
deeply and see God present in that person.Ē
Itís true that none of us probably can suddenly
give up all of violence. But isnít that something we could begin
to do? Not just toward other nations, but in our everyday life?
If in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, our workplaces,
if we really looked upon every person, gazed deeply upon that person until
we saw God in that person, would we ever use violence? I think not.
And so thatís where we can begin. Clearly,
thatís what Jesus did in his life. He always looked upon every person,
those most marginalized, the ones everybody else called sinners, public
sinners, no-good people. They despised them. But Jesus looked
upon them, gazed deeply and saw the image of God in every person.
He then reached out in love to all.
I think thatís the way you and I will begin
to become nonviolent, to let go of our hatreds and our vengeance, our spirit
of retaliation, our spirit of domination, and to become people who will
build up peace.
And so today I invite all of us to come to
Godís mountain, come to hear Godís word, come to put on Christ Jesus.
Learn to gaze on every person until you see
deep within that person the very presence of God. That will be the
way to begin to build peace in your own heart, in your own community, and
ultimately in our world. We will come to the point where there will
be war no more and all of us will turn our weapons into instruments of
Godís reign will begin when you and I follow
Godís ways and put on the Lord Jesus.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and
of the Holy Spirit. Amen.