Fr. Bill Carroll – Second Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2022

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain (says the Lord).  For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Picture the scene.  It takes place right before the public ministry of Jesus.  Crowds are starting to flock to John the Baptist out in the wilderness.  Most of those who are coming are not the most upstanding members of the community.  The people who respond most readily to God’s call to repent are the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and the other “sinners.”  

They are all God’s children.  And yet, they are thought to be outside the love of God, because they do not keep, or cannot keep, the law.  And this is mostly because of what they do for a living, or various kinds of difference, disease, and disability.  These are the ones who flock to John the Baptist, and then to Jesus.

As he looks out at the crowd, John the Baptist is surprised to see Pharisees and Sadducees among them:  “You brood of vipers,” he shouts.  “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”  

John is shocked that the Pharisees and Sadducees are coming to him. But that doesn’t mean he rejects them.  God calls all people (both the righteous and the rest of us) to repent.  God calls all of us (whoever we are and however we are hurting) to turn back to him and to follow his ways.  Despite his harsh tone, John’s message is the same as that of Jesus:  “Repent and bear fruit, for the Kingdom of God has come near.”

John is the greatest of the prophets.  And, as Jesus says, “he is more than a prophet.”  He has come in the “spirit and power of Elijah.”  He is the forerunner of God’s Messiah.  He is a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

Today, we hear from the eleventh chapter of Isaiah.  In a time of exile and great distress, God promises restoration and renewal.  He promises us the Son of David, the true and righteous king: “A shoot will spring up from the stump of Jesse,” he tells us, “and a branch will grow out of his roots.”  

The royal line may seem to be nothing more than a fruitless stump, but God can make it sprout again.  God will not abandon us.  God will not leave us without a shepherd.  God will send his Messiah to save us.  God will anoint him with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  This new and mighty king will “judge the poor with righteousness and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”

The lesson concludes with a vision of peace.  “The wolf shall live with the lamb.  The leopard shall lie down with the kid.  The calf and the lion and the fatling together.  And a little child shall lead them.”  Predator and prey will live together in harmony.  Carnivorous animals will graze and eat straw.  And our ancient enemy, the serpent, will not be able to harm a child.  How inviting this vision must be to those who have seen their country invaded and their holy places destroyed.  For God promises us a restored Jerusalem—the city of peace:  “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain (says the Lord).  For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

Let’s stop and ponder that image for a moment.  Let us pause and consider what it means.  For, when God reigns among us, the earth will be filled with the glory of his love.  The whole world and everyone in it will be transformed by God’s grace.  We will bathe in his goodness.  We will know his presence and his ways.  So that all our bad habits, all our selfish and hateful actions, all our worries and fears—all of them will be swept away by his mighty flood of love.  For, in Jesus Christ, God will turn our hearts back to each other.  

In today’s Epistle, Paul  reminds us about God’s wide-open welcome for us sinners.  He urges us to follow the example of Jesus:  “Welcome one another,” he says.  “Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you.”  

But the world doesn’t always work like that, does it?  As an ancient Roman proverb puts it, “Human beings are wolves to one another.”  Inside each one of us, there lurks a beast of prey.  Each of us is capable of every form of hatred, greed, and violence.  In our Gospel lesson, John the Baptist calls this out.  He warns us about the consequences of sin.  Truly, we are a brood of vipers.  Too often, we are ready to betray, belittle, and harm one another.

But, just around the corner, Jesus is coming.  He will make all things new.  He is coming to restore us in God’s love.  Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Soon, he will embrace us with the wide-open arms of a child.  Soon, he will wash us in the waters of salvation.  For thus says the Lord of Hosts, the Holy One of Israel and our Redeemer:  

The wolf shall live with the lamb.

the leopard shall lie down with the kid.

the calf and the lion and the fatling together.

And a little child shall lead them.