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Sunday, 04 December 2022 / Published in Church Reflections

ISAIAH 11:1-10 | ROMANS 15:4-9 | MATTHEW 3:1-12

We’re beginning our reflection this week with more of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messianic time. He reassures us that, no matter how devastated our world may seem to be, a “shoot shall sprout…a bud shall blossom.”

This sprout, this shoot, is the Messiah whose attributes Isaiah describes in detail. “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord…He will judge the poor with justice and decide aright for the land’s afflicted…He will strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth.”

Isaiah moves on to paint a poetic picture of the new world, the world of the Messianic time.“Then the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together with a little child to guide them.” Isaiah sees a world rejoicing in peace and harmony. “There shall be no more ruin on my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.”

It may be difficult to take this prophecy seriously, today. Our world, and our country, are in turmoil with civic unrest, racial tensions, violence, corruption among the highest government officials,

religious leaders and even parents bribing to get their children into good schools. Even though we believe that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, realistically, the world he came to save is still a mess of violence and corruption. Let’s move on to the gospel to add Matthew’s insight into our reflection regarding the Messianic time.

He begins by quoting Isaiah 40:3. “A voice crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Matthew presents John the Baptist as “the voice” declaring the advent of the new time. Interestingly, John doesn’t use the beautiful poetic images of Isaiah when he speaks about it. Instead, his voice publically condemns the religious leaders who are coming to him to be baptized as a preparation for the Messiah’s coming. He knew that they weren’t coming to him with repentant hearts.

“You brood of vipers!” He spits at them. “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance.” There was nothing subtle about John’s condemnation. He understood that the world could never be changed by a powerful political leader even though he might conquer the whole world. His message proclaimed that the world would be transformed from the inside out!

He understood that laws wouldn’t change the world because they’re fragile band-aids to immediate problems, and that clever lawyers and politicians would inevitably squirm around them. Historically, political messiahs ended up thrusting the world into war and turmoil. No, these “messiahs” could never usher in the Messianic time.

The new world, the Messianic time, will appear and shed its light, through the human heart – a heart cleansed of ego – a heart filled with love. Saint Paul understood this when he wrote to the Romans, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 13:14)

The message for this Second Sunday of Advent may sound simple, but it’s a profound challenge for every Christian. The new world will come when each of us empties ourselves and become Christ.

Sunday, 27 November 2022 / Published in Church Reflections

ISAIAH 2:1-5 | ROMANS 13:11-14 | MATTHEW 24:37-44

Today we begin the new liturgical year with a spirit of anticipation and unbridled hope! Today we begin Advent. The first scripture of the day is taken from the inaugural prophecy of Isaiah. For Christians, it’s perhaps the most well known passage of the Old Testament.

It would be helpful to put Isaiah’s prophecy into an historical context. In the year 736BC a young king, Ahaz, succeeded to the throne of Judah inheriting a serious political situation. The king of Damascus and the king of Israel tried to persuade him to join them in an alliance against the king of Assyria. When Ahaz refused, they declared war on Judah. The king reached out to Assyria for help.

Isaiah tried to dissuade him, begging him to rely on God’s faithfulness, not on untrustworthy political alliances. To persuade him he delivered his famous oracle of a messianic time to come. We’re reading this oracle today.

Ahaz agreed to an alliance that put Judah under Assyrian protection. Assyria used it, however, as an opportunity to annex the northern kingdom, Israel, in 734BC. Samaria fell in 721BC.When Hezekiah succeeded Ahaz as king in 716BC, he reached out to Egypt to support him in a revolt against Assyria. The result was disastrous. The Assyrian forces devastated Palestine in 701BC. Only Jerusalem survived destruction.

The fear and uncertainty must have been traumatic for the Jewish leadership and the general population during those years. It’s in this context that Isaiah delivered his first prophecy. It began with a lament for Jerusalem, symbolic of the rulers of Judah.

“The faithful city, what a harlot she

has become! Zion, once full of fair

judgment, where saving justice used

to dwell, but now assassins! Your

silver has turned to dross, your wine

is watered. Your princes are rebels,

accomplices of brigands. All of them

greedy for presents and eager for

bribes, they show no justice to the

orphan, and the widow’s cause never

reaches them.” (Isaiah 1:22-24)

This lament over the corruption of Judah and Jerusalem is followed by a vision of a new world – a Messianic time. In the vision, Jerusalem is transformed from the place of corruption to the glorious kingdom of God. The temple mount, Zion, the Lord’s house, is seen flooded by people streaming in from every part of the world. The divisions and hostilities that have kept people and nations apart have dissolved. The Lord’s house welcomes everyone, Jew and Gentile alike.

This is a revolutionary image. The word “nations” is goyim in Hebrew. It has a much broader meaning than various countries. It means all those people who aren’t Jews – who aren’t God’s chosen people. In the Jewish vocabulary it’s the disparaging word for “them,” those who aren’t one of us. In the Messianic Time there will be no them and us. National borders no longer exist so that “the nations” may freely stream into the Lord’s house. The prophecy goes on:

“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not rise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”

What a prophecy! Imagine – a world with no national borders to defend – a world with no wars – a world at peace – a world in which God’s house is its only capital!

Isaiah’s prophecy leads us into Advent, but we must prepare ourselves for this procession to the house of God. We’re asked to shed our crippling cynicism. We’re asked to envision the corruption all around us as a thing of the past. We’re encouraged to abandon our narrow and divisive notions of nation, race and creed. We’re asked to open our eyes to the new world of the Messianic time. We are asked to take a spiritual step into that bright new world, and “walk in the light of the Lord!”

Sunday, 20 November 2022 / Published in Church Reflections

2 SAMUEL 5:1-3 | COLOSSIANS 1:12-20 | LUKE 23:35-43

We’re privileged to witness one of the most intimate moments in the life of Jesus. Luke captures the moment for us. It’s Friday, the day after Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. It’s Good Friday. Jesus has been nailed to the cross bar and lifted up. There are two insurgents being executed with him. One on a cross to his left and the other to his right. There isn’t anything awesome about the scene. It’s gruesome and ugly. It’s bloody and sadistic.

The religious leaders have banded together near the execution site. They’re grandstanding, shouting so that the crowd, and the people walking past the site, can clearly hear them. “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Chosen One, the Christ of God.” The guards assigned to the execution begin to join in the jeering and the mockery. The whole thing is a macabre circus for them as they listen to the shouts of the religious leaders, and read Pilate’s sarcastic decree of execution. So, they shout, too. “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

In the midst of this madness, one of the crucified begins to join in with the religious leaders and the guards. “Are you not the Messiah. Save yourself and us!” His voice is constricted by pain and the terrible anger that rages inside of him. His choice to fight for the liberation of Israel brought him to his cross. The socalled Messiah being crucified with him did nothing to further the liberation of Israel, yet the focus is on this holy loser.

Then, another voice can be heard. A rebuke comes from the other cross. “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”

A few hours ago, Judas, a once follower of Jesus, embraced him, and kissed him. Now, a new disciple, a crucified disciple, turns toward Jesus to kiss him. For a few moments, the shouts, the rebukes, the noise, the suffering stops. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ words kiss him in return. “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

PRAYER

I shut out the world and its noise.

I look beyond my suffering and the suffering of my human family.

I kiss the Lord of life.

I let my heart speak.

Jesus, Christ, my King,

remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Sunday, 13 November 2022 / Published in Church Reflections

MALACHI 3:19-20A | 2 THESSALONIANS 3:7-12 | LUKE 21:5-19

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the end of the liturgical year becomes a metaphor for the end of the world as we know it. Our world with its violence, its greed and power lust, its injustice, and its oppression will be exposed, judged and purified. We can clearly see this theme in the readings for this Sunday.

In the passage from the prophet Malachi we hear his prophecy of a day of universal judgment. “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire.” He concludes his prophecy, however, with a word of hope. “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”

In the gospel passage, Jesus was teaching in the temple and overheard people commenting on the beauty and opulence of the temple. He remarked, “All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” He then continued his teaching using language very similar to Malachi’s.

He cautioned his disciples not to be terrified when they heard of wars and insurrections because nations and kingdoms would inevitably rise against each other. There would be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place. There would even be mighty signs in the sky. In addition, another dynamic would be taking place as these events were unfolding. Jesus’

disciples would be seized and imprisoned. They would even be handed over by friends and relatives. They would be hated because of their association with him. Some of them would be put to death. But this would not be the end of the world.

Malachi’s prophecy recognized the darkness of the world we live in, but it also looked to a world purified of injustice and oppression, of war and violence. We Christians, always hopeful, anticipate “a new heaven and a new earth,” a world in harmony with God, a new Eden. However, this new world won’t be forced on us. There won’t be a great rapture during which bad people would be obliterated and good people rise into the heavens.

We Christians hold that the new world will come to life though our self-sacrifice – our living, not for ourselves, but for others. This is the central teaching of Jesus. He modeled this teaching when he washed his disciples feet. He modeled it when he took up the cross. He asked us to follow him. To do what he did. To live as he lived. To continue his mission.

The new world will reveal itself gradually through the loving and sacrificial lives of people like you and me – people who take to heart what Jesus taught and modeled in his own life. In spite of the dismal condition of our world today, we can’t lose hope. We must be devoted to the vision of a new world. We must, no matter what it will cost us, live our lives for others.

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