|Advent: Time for the Change of Hearts
Today's Advent Liturgy speaks about the change of heart that is required of us to be part of the kingdom that would be ushered in by the coming of Christ, the Son of God. Though salvation is a free gift of God and we cannot earn His blessing, we must cooperate with Him because He cannot force His blessing on us. We have to say yes to God. The first reading from the prophet Isaiah describes the new world that has already dawned and that will be manifested when the advent of the Lord is fully achieved. Isaiah describes a society that is a real paradise, where lion and leopard lie down with the lamb and the gazelle; where the little child plays with poisonous snakes, etc. – a kind of nirvana! When is this to be fulfilled? The first part of this reading answers it, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse…” This King would be a great one, full of the Spirit of God, who would possess the best qualities of this family. Above all, He would have a quality that nobody had before Him: He would be just and defend the poor and the oppressed. This promise was never fulfilled before the birth of Jesus, whom the Gospel rightly describes as the expected descendant of David.
This prophecy of Isaiah is still a message of hope for us. Even after the birth of Jesus over 2000 years ago, the paradise has not been fully realized. The powerful continue to lord it over and oppress the weak; human rights are denied many people; hate and violence are still present world over. Yes, the shoot of the family of David has sprung up already; but it is still developing. We are expected to carry out the responsibility of representing in the world the society promised by the Prophet Isaiah. To do this requires a change of heart. The second reading and the Gospel tell us how. In the second reading, St. Paul tells us to live in harmony, and welcome one another like Christ who did not seek to please Himself, but placed Himself at the service of others. The Gospel echoes the same message of a change of heart.
John is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah; “the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” John, who prepared Israel for the Messiah, is proposed to us today as a model. He can once more teach us today how to welcome the Lord who comes. He has to be different to do that: he appears as somewhat strange figure. He wears a garment of camel-hair and eats the simple food of the desert – a locust and wild honey; not the food of the rich and corrupt society. No wonder people flocked to him to be baptized for repentance. John’s baptism meant that a person immersed in water disappeared and died and his/her past life was cancelled and she/he became a new person. But this exterior act is not enough to give salvation. One needs to convert to change one’s way of life. A mere willingness to prepare for the coming of the kingdom of God, as exhibited by the Pharisees and the Sadducees in today's Gospel, is not enough. John is really hard on them and calls them “brood of vipers”; “the axe”, he says, “is lying at the root of the tree” to cut down anyone that does not bear good fruit and “throw into the fire.”