Second Sunday of Advent, Year A, 4 December, 2022: Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12
Certainly, Jesus is never afraid to confront bigotry and hypocrisy, nor does he avoid talking about judgment or the consequences of sin. But there is a palpable contrast between the teaching of Jesus and the fiery harangues of John the Baptist. What attracts Jesus to John and his baptism of repentance? What is the common ground between Jesus and John?
Is it John’s urgent sense of the coming of God’s kingdom and the unprepared condition of his people? Is it his zeal to orient all of Israel to righteousness? Or his concern for the poor? Is it the integrity and consistency of the man himself, quite apart from the message he preaches? Is it his willingness to take risks for the truth and bear the consequences of his less than conventional responses to God?
Jesus would, with a very different personality, steeped in compassion, receptivity and long-suffering, embody all of these characteristics. His manner would be so unlike John’s, however, as to render what he proclaims unlike John’s message. John threatens judgment. Jesus embodies justice as mercy; he grants forgiveness for sins repented. John points to the Kingdom of Heaven; Jesus embodies that Kingdom.
Jesus’ intimacy with his Father in heaven, his identity with the Deity, necessarily generates a struggle: how to communicate that relationship to other people for whom God is perceived as distant? But that relationship with the Father is who Jesus is; first and last, Jesus is the content of his proclamation.
For John, God is “out there,” if ready to break into our world of limits and constraints; John is preparing the way for this breakthrough.
Does John’s fiery, disruptive imagery give Jesus a model to introduce us to that immanent presence of God, already seeping into our mundane experience, while ever calling us to go further? To recognize the Kingdom of God, already breaking through our boundaries, but ever calling us onward, like pilgrims, to a fullness yet to be realized—does that give Jesus an image to invite us into his mystery of Emmanuel, God-with-us?