Dec. 4, 2016

The Challenge of Advent


In John the Baptist we see a great reminder and pointer to the kingdom of God. John proclaims repentance for the people. Everyone in Judea and Jerusalem looks forward to the reign of the kingdom of God. They see John as a sign of its appearance. But John confronts them with the reality of the message, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand". To experience the kingdom implies repentance. It demands turning away from evil and from the things that threaten the peace which the Messiah brings. The challenge is, "Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father" (Matt.3:8-9).

This is the challenge of the kingdom of heaven, the demand from God’s followers in order to enjoy a world governed by peace. The world religions (Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc) have to emphasize this message at all times- "Produce good fruits". Good fruits do not necessarily come from being a member of one church or another. They come from knowing God who has created human beings in his divine image. Good fruits come from knowing that God is the origin of all goodness, that he wants us to be good. Good fruits are the product of faith in God. They arise because God has called us to do good. Any Christian or so called follower of any religion who cannot do good works is not worthy of the name. That's what Saint James means when he says, "Faith without good deeds is dead" (James 2:17). The Jews flock to John the Baptist to witness miracles. Their interest is in material freedom, in a messiah who would bring food sufficiency, political security and financial satisfaction, but they are not ready to commit to the spiritual demands of such kingdom. Social injustice, hatred, oppression, manipulation, reign among the people. Hence John warns them to either desist from those negative lifestyles or perish thus, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you from the coming wrath?"

It is important to hear these words as we prepare for the coming of Christ. Advent is a time to tell ourselves that we need to produce good fruits. It is a time to remind ourselves of the need to create a world order where all will be happy, respected and acknowledged. The lion and the lamb will graze together only if we produce good fruits. The Muslim and the Christian will cohabit if all focus on good works. The Jew and the Hindu will live at peace if all emphasize good works. Blacks and Whites would not segregate if all work towards good fruits. We must produce good fruits for Christmas celebration to be meaningful. Within our own communities, we all need to produce good fruits- visiting the sick, homeless, prisoners. Give alms to the poor, needy, be sincere, work for justice, encourage the depressed and the disappointed, support the weak. In family, be a faithful spouse, help your husband, wife, set good example to your children, love your brothers and sisters. Protect the weak, the unborn children. Forgive your detractor and initiate peaceful conversations in the family. Those are the great manifestations of our faith, and proof of the presence of God's kingdom. Let us take as our assignment for this Christmas to produce at least three good fruits in the lives of others that are different from our regular old Christmas routine in the past.

 May the presence of God's kingdom be felt around us. Amen.