We get lots of advice all through our lifetime. For example: advice on the best schools, places to live and vacation, and places to dine. If you buy a book on Amazon, watch a movie on Netflix, or do anything online, they are quick to advise you on other books to purchase, movies to watch, or what’s next in your life. Such advice might change your evening plans, but won’t change your life. John the Baptist has some advice for us all: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
The people from Jerusalem and other parts of Israel took the advice, and came to the Jordan River to be baptized and acknowledge their sins. That’s part of what it means to repent; it’s a start. The word “repent” means to see in a new way, take a new direction, to reorient one’s life and life path. It is a word of action, of making changes.
Last week in the first reading from Isaiah 2, the prophet held up for us an image, a focal point for our path of repentance, for new direction and change. Isaiah offered us that “the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain …. that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” It is that mountain where swords are transformed to plows and there is peace. Peace in us, peace between us, peace surrounding us – all emanating from that highest mountain on which Christ the King of the Universe reigns in peace. Isaiah asks us to walk in the way of peace, let the King of Peace reign in us, between us, and surround us in all places and times.
The image of the King anchors one of the great hopes of the people of Israel: that at last, at long last, the true King would establish the kingdom of peace. Israel had its share of kings – most of them not so good – most of them fighting battles of one kind or another. Actually, they were so bad that the Word of the Lord came to the prophet Ezekiel and promised that God Himself would come to shepherd the people of Israel as their king and lead them to “the mountain of the LORD’s house.”
It is that promise that is echoed in today’s first reading: “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” Jesse, the father of King David, from his line shall emerge the just and righteous king who will restore what has fallen apart. And it is not just the Kingdom of Israel, he will restore the whole world. The heir of Jesse comes to knit together what sin has rendered asunder.
The sin that tore asunder the Garden of Eden when the serpent whispered temptation and we took the bait, letting sin into the world. Listen again to the words of the first reading: “The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain.” On that day in which we hope and we prepare, what was undone by the first sin, will be made anew. That is the vision Isaiah holds up for us and as it is said in Proverbs 29, without a vision the people will perish. Isaiah continues and fills out the imagery:
“Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox.” This is an image of the peace that is the hope of the season of Advent. A peace that will be universal. How universal? Isaiah describes it for us: “for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.”
Isaiah said there would one day come “A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” That day came. The voice belonged to John the Baptist who called us to repent. Isaiah gives us the vision of what can be if we let the true and righteous King of the Universe reign in us, between us and among us all. His voice echoes: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
We get lots of advice all through our lifetime. Each Advent we are advised to repent and prepare a way for the Lord. And yet so often we do not heed the advice because we have so many things to do, to get done, to then ensure it all gets done, and then fret about how much we have left to do. We blink and Advent is over.
This is the 8th day of Advent. How are you and your family preparing the way of the Lord? Here’s some advice. Find one place, one person, one instance in which you can bring peace. Take a moment to think about it – you’ll know when and where that peace is needed. Let the prophet Isaiah help you to see it all in a new light, let you step out in a new direction, and draw a little closer to “the mountain of the LORD’s house.”
Maybe it is just a small thing, a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less without that drop. That drop, that single drop, is your acknowledging the presence of the Kingdom in your life and letting the light of that Kingdom shine into the world from that highest mountain. Then slowly the peace of Christ fills the world as waters cover the sea.
This is the 8th day of Advent.