Sunday, Dec. 8, is the Second Sunday of Advent. Mass readings: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12.
The readings this week open with stunning images of the kingdom Christ has come to establish — painting vivid images of peace: “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.” These are descriptions of perfect harmony, all things reconciled under the “root of Jesse,” who shall rule the world with justice.
Such images call to mind the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve tended a place free of “harm or ruin.” Without the distortion and disintegration of original sin, they walked with God and lived without fear or violence. This is what Jesus, the New Adam, reclaims as he walks among men again in the New Testament.
John the Baptist, the last prophet, knew these images of his predecessor Isaiah well. This is the “kingdom of heaven” he refers to when he urges the people to repent before the Just Judge comes. After 400 years without a prophetic presence in Israel, his voice is “crying out in the desert,” the symbol in Scripture representing desolation and destitution — quite unlike the lush picture of Eden.
It is into such dryness in the human heart that this new shoot begins to twist out of the hardened soil of sin — the waters of repentance, offered by John, softened the people to receive the word which promises restoration of the relationship Adam had with God so long ago. As they hear and “acknowledge their sins,” already the ground is broken for the new Kingdom to take root.
There is another image from the first chapter of Genesis John must have had in mind when he sees the Pharisees and Sadducees approaching. With the voice of authority, he challenges them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”
Notice the serpent reference — which certainly wouldn’t have been lost on these scholars of the Scriptures. Indeed, they will prove themselves to be as deceitful and cunning as the serpent in Genesis, and Jesus will say, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44). Jesus uses the exact same image — and the exact same phrase — speaking of good and bad fruit and the legalism of the ruling classes, when he says in Matthew 12:33: “… a tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak of such things, when you are evil?”
Such strong words tell us what is at stake: The father of lies would steal from us the kingdom God would re-establish in our souls, a place where he would dwell in peace and walk with us in prayer.
When the lies surface, let us have the courage to drive them away like John the Baptist and cast them under the foot of Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, who will crush them under her heel (Genesis 3:15). There is no place for them in a repentant heart, a heart hungry for good fruit. Our interior deserts are being watered this Advent, so the ground is ready to receive the Incarnate Word at Christmas.
Claire Dwyer blogs about saints, spirituality and the sacred everyday. She is editor of
SpiritualDirection.com and coordinates adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix,
where she lives with her husband and
their six children.