Sunday, December 4, 2016

Lions and Vipers and Bears...Oh, My!

I tried to give a version of this with the kids at the 11:00am "Children's Church" Mass this morning...but after one of the little girls started to talk (in great detail) about how a shark could bite your face off, it was kind of hard to get things back on track again.  Isaiah did say, "and a little child will lead them"...but he didn't actually say where to...

   Second Sunday of Advent   A 

Fr. Scott came down for breakfast yesterday saying he’d had a really weird dream: that he was riding on a shark…but in his dream, riding on a shark seemed perfectly normal.  That’s true of many dreams, isn’t it?  The unlikely, even the impossible, seems to be completely ordinary.  But in real life, sharks aren’t made for riding.  Not to mention that, if a shark sees a person, there’s a good chance it will bite, which means that if a person sees a shark, he or she’s going to get away as fast as they can.

Fr. Scott’s dream makes me think of another dream: Isaiah’s dream of which we hear in this Sunday’s first reading—which is, of course, actually God’s dream:
            Then the wolf shall be a 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.
            The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
            together their young shall rest;
            the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
            The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
            and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
None of that is normal, natural behavior for animals.  When a wolf sees a lamb, its first thought isn’t, “Let’s snuggle!”  If a mama bear comes across a cow, she doesn’t say, “Our kids should have a play date,” but, “Our kids should do lunch!”

So what is Isaiah dreaming of?  He’s dreaming of our return to Paradise—of getting back to Eden, of God restoring things to the way they were meant to be in the very, very beginning.  Isaiah’s dreaming of the day when the promised King, the Messiah, will come, and his kingdom will be one of perfect peace.

But I don’t think Isaiah’s really dreaming about animals.  After all, for predators to attack and kill is perfectly normal and natural; it’s how they feed themselves and their young.  But we often enough use these very same animals to say something about ourselves: “He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” “She’s a real bear today,” or, as John the Baptist addressed the corrupt religious leaders, “You brood of vipers!”  We spend so much time on the hunt, prowling and clawing at each other, that we can begin to think this is normal, natural human behavior, too.  But that’s not at all how God created us to be!  Because of sin, our human nature is fallen and deeply wounded…but we weren’t made for greed or anger or lust or any of the other ways we hurt one another or harm ourselves.  Instead, we were made for love: to love and be loved.  If we’re going to fight anything, it ought to be injustice and sickness and poverty…not each other.  God’s plan wasn’t that we’d be lions or bears, but the sheep of his flock.  This “peaceable kingdom” of which Isaiah is dreaming is more than a dream: it’s how things were at the start…and it’s been God’s desire ever since then to get us back there.

Isaiah tells us what God is dreaming; John the Baptist tells us how we can help to make it become reality.

You see, Isaiah dreamt of all this taking place when the new King, the Lord’s Anointed, appeared: a King filled with God’s Spirit of wisdom and strength and fear of the Lord.  We believe that that King has already come: he’s Jesus Christ.  So if the King has come, where is his hoped-for kingdom of peace?  You see, just as God the Father relied on the cooperation of the Virgin Mary in bringing his Only Begotten Son to human birth, so the Son must rely on us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to establish his kingdom on earth.  The Holy Trinity loves and respects us too much to force the divine dream on us.  God waits for us to say “yes” to his plan, to follow the promptings of his Spirit who was poured into our hearts at Baptism.  But as I’ve already noted, we’re weak and we’re wounded.  We sin.

Enter John the Baptist and the message he repeats every Advent: “Repent!  The promised kingdom is close at hand.  Prepare the way of the Lord.”  If there’s going to be room for the Holy Spirit to live and move and work within us, then we must cast out all those predator-like tendencies.  We must turn from our sins and seek the Lord’s mercy.  We must first be at peace with God in our hearts if there is to be any peace in the world.  There’s no other way!

And so we have God’s great gift of the Sacrament of Penance.  There’s a guide to confession in your bulletin this Sunday—which is helpful whether you regularly receive this sacrament or even if it’s been many years.  A week from tomorrow, Fr. Scott and I—as we’ve done before—will be available to hear confessions for 16 hours straight.  We should call it, “No Excuses Monday.”  This Advent, make sure to not only prepare your home for Christmas, but to prepare your heart for Christ.  Allow Jesus to free you from your sins so that you can cooperate fully with his Spirit and his plan for you and for the world.

I don’t think Fr. Scott really wants his Friday night dream to come true.  But Isaiah’s dream for his people—which is God’s dream for all people—is one that urgently needs to be fulfilled.  Repent of your sins.  Prepare the way for Christ.  Cooperate with his Holy Spirit who alone can lead us into the kingdom of peace.

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