Scripture Readings for December 5, 2017
Today’s first reading is all about the coming of the future king and his reign. Isaiah is the ultimate Advent reading. It is the basis of Advent, telling us what is to come and what to look for. If we have mistakenly romanticized Christmas into a season of gift giving and family get-togethers, Isaiah reminds us that we are waiting for a completely different world, a paradise of peace and joy.
In terms of Advent we are still waiting for something that we think has already taken place. We treat Advent as routine, part of getting ready for Christmas. However, Advent is asking us to wait for something much bigger; not bigger than Christmas properly understood but bigger than our usual operational understanding of Christmas. Advent and Isaiah want us to see a new world that looks like Eden, a paradise. It is a world where calves and lions walk together, where children play with once deadly snakes, where the poor are treated fairly and there is “no harm or ruin” on the earth. That is the world we are looking for.
Yet in Luke’s gospel Jesus is telling his disciples that they are already seeing what the prophets wanted to see. They have just returned from their mission to spread the Gospel and they have been wildly successful, even casting out spirits. They have participated in knowing God, they have taken part in revealing God’s kingdom. However, for us, two thousand years later, this anticipated heaven doesn’t appear to be present. God’s reign is not yet. So how is Isaiah’s prophesy and Luke’s gospel helpful for us today? What message can we take away?
It is an understanding that Jesus is both the media and the message. His existence is what we need to know about ourselves and our relationship with God. When Isaiah talks about all the gifts of the Spirit that will be given to the expected Messiah, to Jesus, he is revealing what is available to all of humanity. This is also what Jesus is thanking his Father for in Luke, when he says, “you have revealed these things to the childlike,” i.e. to ordinary people, to everyone. That’s what Jesus is also saying to his disciples, when he says they are blessed because they can actually see what Jesus, the Messiah, is doing and as a result they are in a position to do the same thing. Kings and prophets before Jesus only thought in terms of a future possibility, an imagined future in which they hoped to see God act in their world. However, that’s what the disciples actually have in front of them, the living expression of God in the world.
If we believe that’s true, that the person Jesus is God operating in the world, then we are also in a position to live that reality. To spread that way of living, to act out of that love and presence which is available to us in the Spirit. No, the world is not the idyllic paradise we might imagine. Yet when and where people have lived the life of love and care for others, their piece of the planet has been changed. You know the famous examples: Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, and the many official saints. You also probably know people you admire who have changed their part of the world, people who have made a difference. These are happy, enthusiastic, devoted people who recognize the gift they have and share it. That’s something we can all do and it can make a difference to this world’s day to day reality.