St. Paul writes in this week’s selection from Romans, “Christ became a minister of the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises of the patriarchs, but so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing praises to your name’” (Rom 15:9). Paul captures one of the major themes of Advent that all believers should constantly live in hope.
This theme is important for our current culture. So much of our politics and media coverage encourages us to fear. When we believe we live in a world that seems more dangerous each day, we can yield to the evil spirit of despair that God has abandoned us; God no longer cares for us and leaves us alone in the turmoil that surrounds us. To counter this despair the church presents us each year with the season of Advent to call us back to the hope given by God.
Isaiah presents a utopian vision of a time when even the beasts live in complete tranquility with each other. The message in Isaiah is not about zoology, but rather about a time when all creation will be in harmony ruled by the shoot that springs from the stump of Jesse. “Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he will judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted” (Is 11:3-4). As Christians we believe that God will bring about Isaiah’s vision.
This week’s Gospel passage presents us with the important message that the time envisioned by Isaiah and the assurance described by Paul has arrived. John the Baptist’s message is clear: “Repent, the Savior is here bringing the salvation for which all people hope.” John functions as the messenger of the good news yet he does not actually proclaim that good news; rather he leaves that to Jesus.
The pattern of proclamation John uses as one who points out the Savior is a pattern for each believer. We want to set up the appropriate conditions for the people around us to hear the good news. Consequently, we lead our lives so that people want to imitate our faith and our concern for others. If we are people of hope we do not lose sight of God’s promises as we navigate the confusion of our secular lives. We try to lead lives of justice. Rather than discord and strife we dwell in peace and faith. Advent is a season for reorienting ourselves away from current troubles to the great truth that the Savior is coming. He heals the world of its ills and establishes the time when all creation will live in harmony. He shows God’s truthfulness, confirms the promises made to the patriarchs, and bestows mercy on all humankind.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.