The 2nd Sunday in Advent

The Second Sunday of Advent [A]
Isa 11:1-10  +  Rom 15:4-9  +  Mt 3:1-12
December 4, 2016

“It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:  ‘A voice of one crying out in the desert….’”


On the one hand, preparing for Christmas is played out in many traditional ways.  We take comfort in the sights, sounds, and smells of the season.  We look forward to seeing the traditional signs that tell us that Christmas is near.

On the other hand, Scripture tells us during Advent to expect the unexpected.  The Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who lived seven centuries before Jesus, prophesied about a day that was to come in the future.  Isaiah preached about that future day on which the Messiah—the Savior of the Jews—would appear and set things right in the world.  But Isaiah’s prophecy is a little strange.  It’s unexpected.  That’s why Isaiah was rejected.

Isaiah begins his prophecy with the words:  “On that day….”  That day will be unexpected, a day of strange sights and sounds.  The images that Isaiah describes seem to be contradictions:  the lion eating hay, and the wolf as the guest of the lamb.  But then comes the most disturbing image, especially if we think of the manger in Bethlehem…

“The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.”  We would never expect to see this image in real life.  In fact, if a person is a parent, it’s the last image they’d want to see.

Isaiah probably used the image of the baby because of a baby’s innocence, and how it contrasts with the cunning and danger of the serpent.  But whether Isaiah knew it or not, his image also sums up the meaning of Christmas.  God the Son, who existed from all eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, entered into this world of ours as a tiny baby.  And what kind of a world is it?  Is the world we live in a land of milk and honey?

Hardly.  The world we live in—the world God the Son entered into as a baby—is a world of sin and sickness.  This world in which Jesus is born is a world where justice is denied to the innocent, and kings are liars.  This world of ours is turned upside-down, and this is the world into which God the Father sent Jesus as an innocent baby.

Why would God the Father do that?  The Father, who is perfect, and without any needs, chose to send His Son from heaven to earth:  from Heaven—a place of perfection, the Kingdom where His Will is done—to earth—a place where sin has the upper hand, a lair of the serpent where everyone gives in to his temptations.  The baby Isaiah prophesies about is the baby Jesus, and the snake is the Devil.  Isaiah’s prophecy echoes what God had promised the serpent in the Garden after Adam and Eve had committed the Original Sin:  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;  He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”[1]

No matter how poorly we offer our lives to God day in and day out, He loves us continually, and boldly.  This love from God is mysterious and unexpected, and is the same love that we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas.  This is the love which God the Father shows us in sending His only Son into this world of sin, in order to take that sin upon Himself on the Cross.

This can be hard for us to realize.  We may say we believe these truths of our Faith, but the Church knows how hard it is for us truly to believe how much the Father loves us.  That’s why we fallen human beings need an entire season of four weeks to prepare for Christmas.  Last week I mentioned three practices that are a good way to prepare during Advent.  We can remember them with the initials P-S-P.  These three letters—P-S-P—stand for poverty, silence, and penance.

Silence is hard to come by these days.  Fortunately, a lot of people who live in the country—even just five or ten miles from a large city—appreciate silence.  However, with the nature of mass media today, it doesn’t matter if you live at the top of a mountain:  radio signals, TV signals, wireless Internet and more can be beamed to you, or maybe we should say at you.  To create an atmosphere of silence, you have to go on the offense and unplug, disconnect or simply turn off a lot of devices.

Of course, there’s also another difficulty when it comes to silence.  Sometimes we don’t like silence.  Noise has a way of blocking out, or distracting us from, our own thoughts and concerns, which at times we’d rather not face.  But maybe we need to accept silence as a gift.  Silence is a two-fold gift, the first aspect of which is that it’s a gift we give ourselves, so as to hear one’s own true self.  But the importance of silence also goes beyond our selves.

You remember the Old Testament story about Elijah, to whom the Lord God spoke not through fire or an earthquake, but within a tiny whisper.  In the Christian spiritual life, silence is not an end in itself.  Silence is a means, or rather, a medium through which to hear the Word of God.  The Word of God, of course, is a Person:  the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity.  In the prologue to his Gospel account, which we will hear at Christmas morning Mass, St. John proclaims that this divine Word, which was in the beginning, became Flesh and dwelt among us.  He became flesh and blood—one of us—in order to offer that Body and Blood, with His soul and divinity, on the Cross at Calvary, and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, because you and I are sinners.  That’s a message we sinners need to hear, and we need silence to be able to hear it.

[1] Genesis 3:15.