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DECEMBER 5, 2010: SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Readings: 

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3:1-12

It’s one thing to expect a single charismatic individual to come along and usher in an ideal age. It’s another thing for each of us to do what’s necessary to help create that ideal age.

No one can argue with First-Isaiah’s depiction of the perfect Davidic leader. Active during a period when the Chosen People are continually threatened by their arch-enemy, the Assyrians, this 8th century BCE prophet tries to project them into a day and age when total peace reigns. Everyone will live so harmoniously that”... the wolf will be the guest of the Iamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid . . . There will be no harm or ruin on all my (Yahweh’s) holy mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of Yahweh as water covers the sea.” We, like the prophet’s audience, can only hope this “sprout from the stump of Jesse” will hit town in our lifetime.

Though both Paul and Matthew also paint a picture of an ideal world, they’re convinced the special person destined to usher in that longed-for era isn’t going to bring it about alone. It’ll only come when we have the courage to live our lives as Jesus of Nazareth lived his.

Matthew’s John the Baptist, for instance, tells his followers that the Messiah they’re expecting to transform this world will actually be concerned with judging their attempts to change this world. “He it is who will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor, and gather his grain into the barn, but the chaff he will burn in unquenchable fire.” In other words, Jesus’ ideal world will be a “do-it-yourself’ project. Yet, we imitators of Jesus aren’t expected to go it alone. The Baptist assures us that Jesus’ Spirit will always play an essential role in even the smallest spark his followers ignite.

This seems to be why Paul is so confident the Christian community in Rome can “. . . live in perfect harmony with one another according to the spirit of Christ Jesus. ...“ We can’t have peace without creating the unity which brings peace about.

In the very next verse, the Apostle provides us with the key to achieve such harmony: “Accept one another… as Christ accepted you, for the glory of God.” The earliest Christians had to bridge a huge cultural gap in order to actually “accept one another:” the centuries-old gulf between Jews and Gentiles. The former, Paul states, are saved through Jesus because of Yahweh’s ancient promises; the latter, because of Yahweh’s mercy. Yet in order to be authentic imitators of Jesus, each must accept the other as equal.

With all of today’s scriptural expertise, I’m amazed those preparing for confirmation are still being taught just the seven gifts of the Spirit found in today’s first reading - gifts which the ideal Jewish king is expected to possess: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord (with “piety” added to round out a perfect seven). Teachers usually tiptoe around the Christian gifts of the Spirit which Paul clicks off in I Corinthians 12 - gifts which can lead to huge divisions if they’re put into play in an institution-oriented church. Yet Paul believes such “divisive” gifts as prophecy, healing, administration and tongues can actually bring about an ideal world if we “other Christs” are willing to fall back on the Spirit’s power to unite those who unselfishly exercise such charismas.

One ideal person won’t be able to pull off such a feat by himself or herself. It’ll take all those who share Jesus’ vision to accomplish it. But how many of us are willing to die enough to ourselves to unite these diverse gifts into the powerful unity Jesus envisions?