Sunday, December 7, 2014

Second Sunday of Advent

Romans 15:4-13 / Matthew 11:2-10

What is it that Jesus Christ came into the world to reveal? We might quite easily answer that he came to reveal God, and God's will for man, and this would surely be correct. The Scriptures, St. Paul tells us, were written for our teaching so that we might have hope. And why hope? That we might with one mind and with one heart we may glorify God and the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. When John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus, it was precisely that he might know who Jesus was, to be certain whether Jesus is in fact the one who is to come, the promised Messiah, or whether he needed to look for another. That is, he looked to Jesus to know just who Jesus is, to find in him, or not, a clear revelation of the saving will of God.

Yet, we find something curious about Jesus' reply. To be sure, Jesus answers John's question. He directs John's disciples to consider what they have seen and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, to poor have the gospel preached to them. The signs are clear and unambiguous, at least for those who already trusted in the words God spoke through his prophets. However, at this point, Jesus turns the question around. He asks the crowd what they looked for in going out to see the John the Baptist. He notes that they cannot have gone to see anything other than one whom they took to be a prophet. Here is where the interesting turn happens. If Jesus is the one whom the signs prove him to be, that is, knowing Jesus to be the promised Christ, then who does this mean that John the Baptist is? He cannot be a mere prophet, as Jesus notes, but more than a prophet, the one of whom it is written: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.

A similar turn happens in Paul's letter to the Romans. Noting that for the Jews, the circumcision in Paul's language, the merciful revelation in Jesus Christ is a reaffirmation of the promises they already held, a reassertion if in a fuller way of a God whom they already knew. Yet, for the Gentiles, the revelation in Christ reveals who they are as well. In Jesus, we find that the Gentiles are, as much as the Jews, part of God's plan all along, that the saving mission for the promised one of Israel is, at the same time, the one in whom the Gentiles shall hope. Despite all appearances, the Gentiles, no less than the Jews, occupy a crucial place in the total plan of God's saving work.

What this suggests is that, in coming to know and confess who God really is, in coming to know God in the Incarnate Word, in Jesus Christ, and in knowing his saving plan for us, we at the same time come to a revelation of ourselves. In seeing who Christ is for us, we see at the same moment who we are meant to be for him, how we have played and continue to play a role in his saving work. This is why Advent is part of why Advent is a time of penance, a time of transformation. Advent summons us to abandon our false selves, to let go of the persons we thought ourselves to be. Advent invites us to enter in hope and joy into the identities God has revealed for us in his merciful coming, whom God has made known in the cave at Bethlehem, on the Cross at Golgotha, in the empty Tomb, and will make known for all to see in his glorious return.

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