Second Sunday of Advent
"PRODUCE GOOD FRUITS AS EVIDENCE OF YOUR REPENTANCE"
Today's readings feature two prominent prophecies about God's kingdom. One is the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah while the other is the New Testament prophecy of John the Baptist. Both prophecies point to the coming of a great kingdom though in different ways. While Isaiah talks of a world of perfect happiness, John the Baptist uses harsh tone which warns everyone of the imminence of dangers for those who take his words for granted. God's kingdom is great and loving but it demands repentance from those who really have to enjoy it.
Isaiah's prophecy dates back to the second half of the eighth century BC, a time when Judah turned to various alien nations for protection from invasion, Assyria being one of those nations that made Judah to panic. The people take things for granted. Social justice suffers. The prophet confronts the people against recklessness in the first instance. However, he prophecies hope for the coming of a righteous king, the son of David. He will lead the people back to their origin, namely, God. "On that day", he says, "a shoot shall spring from the stump of Jesse". This king will be specially chosen for the mission of liberating the people. "The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; the spirit of wisdom and insight, the spirit of counsel and power, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord" (Is.11:1-3). Isaiah continues to create an image of the beatific vision where all things will be complete and perfect. The imagery is one of which this king shall transform the world into a perfect and mystifying presence. Justice, fairness, uprightness, and constancy shall be prominent features. Everything will be transformed into a paradise of peace and harmony. Imagine such powerful image, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Is.11:6-9).
All of us will surely wonder on the reality of this prophecy in our time. How can the young child play with the cobra? How can the leopard and the goat graze together when human beings themselves have not accommodated their kind? How can the lion eat with the lamb when the cat and the dog which stay in your house are already struggling for supremacy? Think about the chaos in today's world; the people of Aleppo in Syria, for example are dying in numbers from their own brothers and sisters who have become ISIS members. The North and South Koreans are ill at ease with each other. In Nigeria, people are dying because of man's inhumanity to man. Here in the United States, pockets of hatred and discriminations exist, differences for mere reasons of color. So, how can this perfect world image created by the prophet Isaiah over thousands of years ago be realized? Or did it expire after his era?
Saint Paul uses two words to describe how we can create such harmony in the world: "endurance and encouragement". He enjoins us to welcome one another in the same way as Christ welcomed us for the glory of God. It was Christ who broke the barriers of separation and segregation, thus enabling both Jews and Gentiles to share in God's inheritance. That kingdom prophesied by Isaiah is the kingdom of Christ the Emmanuel. He is the shoot from the stock of David, the Mighty Counselor, Prince of Peace.
In John the Baptist we see this 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 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 Christians 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, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you from the coming wrath?"
It is important to hear these words today as we prepare for the coming of Christ. Advent is a time of telling ourselves of the need to produce good works. It is a time to remind ourselves of the need to create a perfect world order where all will be happy, respected and acknowledged. The lion and the lamb will graze together only if we produce good works. 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 community, we all need to produce good fruits. Visiting the sick, homeless, prisoners. Giving alms to the poor, needy, being sincere, working for justice, encouraging the depressed and the disappointed, supporting the weak; these are all good fruits of our faith. Protecting the unborn children is good fruit. Forgiving my detractor and initiating peaceful conversations in the family are good fruits of faith. 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 do at least three key works that are different from our regular Christmas routine in the past to produce good fruits in the lives of others.
May the presence of God's kingdom be felt around us. Amen.