2nd Sunday of Advent
Preached December 7, 2019; Vigil Mass, St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Like last Sunday, today’s 1st reading gives us another vision of peace, a restoration of the peace of Eden, where there will be no hurt nor harm on God’s Holy Mountain.
Let me begin with a brief review of what I said last Sunday about the peace of Eden, which consisted of a hierarchy of four distinct orders. The order of man to God through sanctifying grace, which is a sharing in God’s own life, which makes us to be truly children of God; the interior order of the human soul; the right order of human relationships, the very first of which is the order between husband and wife; and the benevolent dominion of man over the rest of creation.
The peace of Eden was itself a preparation for perfect union with God in the heavenly kingdom
That peace was lost when Adam’s disobedience destroyed the first order, casting everything else into the ruin and disorder that is now part and parcel of the human experience of a fallen world.
Through the work of the Savior, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in her Immaculate Conception, already experienced the full restoration of the peace of Eden. For the rest of us, while restoration to grace needs to take place already in this life, the peace of Eden will only be perfectly restored, and then some, in the heavenly kingdom.
Last Sunday we learned about the restoration of order, and therefore of peace, through a return to God in right religion, which is the religion of Jesus Christ, the religion of the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, summed up in these words: Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.
Today, the focus is more on the One who brings about this restoration of order and peace. He is the One announced by John the Baptist. He is so much greater than John that John, the greatest among those born of women, is not worthy to be his slave.
The Messiah and Savior, the 1st reading tells us, is the promised descendant of David, the son of Jesse, who comes from the royal line that has been reduced again to a lowly stump. Yet, he is also the very root of Jesse, because his origin is from God, the origin of all, he is the very Son of God from eternity. That is why he is both the shoot from the stump and the root of the stump.
As Son of God from eternity he is, with the Father, the origin even of the Holy Spirit; as man born of the Virgin Mary, he receives the Holy Spirit, in his fullness from the Father. This makes him to be the Christ, the Messiah, the one anointed not with olive oil, but with the full reality signified by the oil, the Holy Spirit, whom he receives to pour out for the sanctification of those who believe in him and welcome his reign.
Through the Spirit of God, he does not judge in a human manner, that is by appearances, but as only God can do, he judges the heart in justice and truth. (cf. 1 Sam 16:7)
He delivers the poor and the afflicted from the power of the ruthless and the wicked. The poor refers to all of us who share the condition of sinful humanity, incapable of doing anything that will please God and atone for Adam’s sin. The afflicted are those who in addition are discontent with the chains of their sins and long for deliverance.
Many who are bound by the chains of sin are perfectly content with those chains, especially when they are fashioned of gold; they are counted among the poor, even if they do not recognize their poverty, but they are not among the afflicted. There are others who indeed bewail their situation but will do nothing to change it; their affliction is more a matter of words than reality.
For those who are both poor and afflicted, Jesus Christ breaks the tyrannical power of the ruthless and wicked devil, and of his willing servants. He accomplished this by rod of his mouth and the breath of his lips; that is, by the power of his almighty word and the Holy Spirit of divine love, by his inseparable truth and love.
What follows, when the wolf becomes the guest of the lamb, may seem to refer to the restored harmony of the created world, but I would suggest that it refers, by way of the imagery and metaphor, to the renewal of the interior order of the soul and even of human social life. This renewal can be seen most perfectly in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The cobra and the adder refer to the devil who shall be rendered harmless; with the devil ‘defanged’ there shall me no harm or ruin on my holy mountain.
So with the three pairs of wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, young lion and calf, we could say that on the one hand we have the aggressive impulses of human emotion and the other the pleasure seeking emotional impulses. Both types of emotion are part of human life; their moral quality of good or bad depends on their measure and direction.
The same is true of those who are characterized more by the aggressive emotions and those who are characterized more by the pleasant emotions; both types are needed in human social life; both types need to learn to master their emotions, so as to place themselves, with their emotional life, at the service of the true common good.
People who let themselves be driven by their emotions will sometimes be dominated by the aggressive, sometimes by the pleasure seeking. In both cases these people will come into continual conflict with others simply because the emotions, left to themselves, are egoistic, even when they are clothed with fine self-justifying language, like the language of ‘love’ and of ‘good intention’. Further, the person who is emotionally driven will experience within himself the conflict between the emotions; sometimes the aggressive emotions will be suppressed because they are perceived (emotionally) as ‘bad’, but sometimes it is the other way around.
Notice that in the prophecy harmony comes about because the aggressive and the pleasure-seeking impulses are both guided by a little child.
This is the little child to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. This little child represents human reason, our capacity for reality, open to God, the highest and greatest reality, through faith in the little child, Jesus Christ, who was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem.
It is reason, not emotion, not cold calculating reason, but reason illumined and transformed by faith, that should guide and govern our life; it is reason illumined by faith and aided by the actual grace of the Holy Spirit that is capable of bringing our interior life and our social life into order. When the human mind is no longer closed off by skepticism, or by the false dominion of scientism, or by merely human philosophies and ideologies, but instead open to God through faith, then the knowledge of the Lord comes to fill the created mind as waters cover the sea.
This is what the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One comes already to bring us through the sevenfold gift of the Holy Spirit: The gift of wisdom and understanding, the gift of counsel and of strength, the gift of knowledge and of piety, and the gift of the fear of the Lord. This gift transforms our lives and makes us to be like Christ.
But where do we find him? Where do we meet him? We must see his signal, the Holy Cross, raised up for the nations; we must come to his glorious dwelling place, the tabernacle of his Body in the Eucharist, where he abides in our churches. We must, in the words of the Psalmist, come to adore at his footstool – where he touches the earth – for it is holy. (Ps. 99:5)
If we wish to draw near, we must draw near in faith and the fear of the Lord, with sincere repentance for our sins, repentance that brings forth the fruit of a life transformed by the grace of God.