Sunday, December 04, 2022

Of Viruses & Vipers, Protection & Peace...

2nd Sunday in Advent (A)

Readings: Isaiah 11: 1-10; Psalm 71 (72): 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17; Romans 15: 4-9; Matthew 3:1-12

Picture: by LN on Unsplash

My dear friends, do you feel safe here? Without giving it much thought, perhaps some of us will quickly say yes. And yet, aren’t many of us, including me, still wearing our masks and sanitising our hands? Why, if not because even this sacred place is not as safe as it looks? There remains at least a hidden threat of viral infection, requiring measures to make the space safer, especially for those more vulnerable.

It’s helpful to keep this in mind, as we ponder the scriptures today. For that consoling picture of peace that Isaiah paints in the first reading is also an image of safety. Safety from threats both obvious and hidden. Safety for children and those more vulnerable. In this vision, the lamb finds it safe to live with the wolf. The young child suffers no harm when it places its hand into the viper’s lair. And a little boy is allowed to lead them. How is this wonderfully safe space created? It results from the wise rule of the coming king, whose reign is marked by discerning impartial judgment, and responsible courageous action to protect the vulnerable, and keep the dangerous in check. He does not judge by appearances… but judges the wretched with integrity… His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless, his sentences bring death to the wicked.

We see something similar in John the Baptist's interaction with the Pharisees and Sadducees. By calling them a brood of vipers, John indicates that, like poisonous snakes (and coronaviruses too), they pose a hidden threat to the vulnerable. They hide their self-promoting other-exploiting intentions under pious appearances. Yet without a true change of heart, simply going through the motions of being baptised in water will do them no good. The Lord who is coming will test them in the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit, and they will be burnt up, unless they repent.

All of which may help us better understand what the second reading is asking of us. More than just tolerating and being friendly with everyone, we are to welcome one another as Christ welcomes us. Christ, who did not condone our wrongdoing, but mercifully and courageously bore the cross-shaped consequences of calling us to repentance. So as to lead us into the Reign of God, where everyone, particularly children and the more vulnerable, finds true safety.

I’m reminded of these words spoken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, on his visit to Ukraine: There will be no peace till we stop lying. You’ve got to tell the truth, however painful. There can never be a way forward built on lies… Beyond countries torn by war, can’t the same be said of other spaces haunted by less obvious threats? Spaces both religious and secular, real and virtual, public and domestic? Just as mask-wearing and hand-sanitising help keep us safe in a pandemic, so too do truth-seeking and truth-speaking enable us to blaze a surer path from danger to safety, from conflict to peace.

Sisters and brothers, what must we do to help one another receive the courage to walk this path together more faithfully this Advent? 

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