December 1, 2019

What do you hope for? That is the fundamental question of Advent. As we enter into this season of hope, the scriptures and our liturgies help to shape our hopes and place them in a wider context of God’s hope for us and for our world. The Prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Mary are central figures in our journey of hope these next four Sundays.

For all four Sundays of Advent, our first reading will come from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. His ministry of prophecy took place in and around Jerusalem beginning around 742 B.C. The threat of foreign powers always hung in the air during Isaiah’s years of ministry.

In the midst of that threat, Isaiah encouraged fidelity to God and the demands of the covenant as the surest way for Judah to achieve ultimate security. Out of fear, the kings of Judah were regularly tempted to enter into foreign alliances in order to protect themselves.

In the midst of this fear, Isaiah speaks a word of hope and comfort. He has a vision of Jerusalem becoming a place of pilgrimage for all peoples (First Sunday of Advent). This universal nature of God’s power to save, and the unity and peace that Jerusalem - the Lord’s holy mountain - symbolized, was filled with unimaginable joy.

Even when things went bad and the line of kings who traced their origins back to King David, the son of Jesse, were overcome and cut down like a forest of trees reduced to stumps, Isaiah anticipated a better future. In those coming days, Isaiah saw that from the stump of Jesse “a shoot shall sprout…and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…” (Second Sunday of Advent).

For us Christians, Isaiah’s vision of the ideal king is realized in Jesus, born of Mary. The coming of this new day of the ideal king will not only save all of Judah and Jerusalem, but all of creation will cry out with joy (Third Sunday of Advent). This ideal king will not be like his predecessors who lived and ruled in fear. This new king will bring the hope of God’s enduring presence. His very name, “Emmanuel,” will be a sign of that presence (Fourth Sunday of Advent).

Isaiah’s consistent message of hope runs through our four Sundays of Advent as we look forward and backward. Jesus reminds us that our Advent celebrations not only prepare us to celebrate his coming among us long ago, but also have us looking forward to his coming again at the end of time (First Sunday of Advent). For Christians, this looking forward should be a time of eager anticipation and hope.

At the same time, we are called, in the figure of John the Baptist, to examine our lives so that we are ready for the coming of the Lord (Second Sunday of Advent). That preparation requires repentance, a word that literally means “to change your mind.” What is the evidence of this repentance? The Baptist says it is in producing “good fruit” in our lives. We can’t just rely on our religious heritage, but we need to enter into an intentional process of reflection on our lives and how we are living the values of the reign of God.

What do those values look like? The coming of the Messiah, and the reign of God that he brings, are characterized by broken people, especially those on the margins, being made whole, where life triumphs over death and where the poor hear the good news of God’s love and care (Third Sunday of Advent).

All of this preparation, all of this hope - from Isaiah to John the Baptist - culminates in the “yes” of Mary and the trust of Joseph (Fourth Sunday of Advent). In their cooperation with God, in their overcoming their fear and confusion by trusting the message of an angel, this simple and faith-filled couple brings forth hope-made-flesh in Jesus.

That hope is still alive, is still with us today. That hope is a person - the Risen Christ - who accompanies us today as we enter into this holy season. As we prepare to celebrate his coming among us long ago in flesh and blood, and as we look forward to his coming again, may our hopes be shaped by His hope for us and for our world.

God Bless,
Fr. Gary Lazzeroni