Monday, 9 December 2019

2nd Sunday of Advent Year A 2019

The first reading would be perfect for a Gospel of Nice. How so? The answer may be gleaned from what vexes or irks us most today? Firstly, as a preamble, I do not suppose that the world is in a far worse shape than it had ever been before. Perhaps, what ails the world today is perception. Many news outlets survive not on the sale of newspapers but on the ancillary services they provide—mobile top-ups, plethora of junk food and some magazines tattered dog-eared from mishandling by those who do not buy but read for free. The reason being that our electronic medium is more immediate than it is social. In fact, it is rather intrusive because everything and anything can be beamed onto our handsets and thus, what happens somewhere remotely stands as much chance as anything to becoming a viral sensation. With this immediacy, like moths, we are drawn to the tragedies of doom and gloom. Think of the jams along our highway. They stem not from roadworks but from the curious slowing down to peek at the accident on the other side or to get the car’s registration for buying 4-D. However, our disaster-fatigue resulting from this bizarre attraction only makes the imagery of the first reading tantalisingly seductive.


Isaiah promises a messianic end-time pregnant with peaceful possibilities. Just imagine that the lion will eat straw like the ox and the infant plays over the cobra’s nest. Enervated or paralysed by the non-stop streaming of conflicts and catastrophes, we yearn for a portrait of peace. If you observe PKR’s Anwar-Azmin long-drawn wayang kulit drama, you appreciate how tiresome the saga has been. Our discord-battered spirits ache to escape from this never-ending hell of contentions and struggles.


The Gospel enters directly into this messy human reality to challenge it. Situate this hunger for relational harmony with the scenario of John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness, calling people names, excoriating or berating them. Definitely not a picture-perfect image of goodwill and friendship. In fact, he warns of the comeuppance if the Pharisees and the Sadducees did not repent of their ways.


It would appear that we have two approaches to the Messianic future as suggested by the first reading and the Gospel—one a hopeful vision of a possible future and the other a forewarning of impending destruction. However, both the promise of a favourable future and the attendant admonition are actually two sides of a same coin that can be summed in a word which we familiar with. 


It is renewal.


The word renewal connotes current, fresh, state of the art, recent and novelty. You get the drift. But what it does not convey is judgement. Presumably, when we want to renovate, it would entail some exercises in getting rid of, cutting off and divesting. That would supposedly be the result of our “judgement”. We sort things out and based on some criteria where we throw away what is considered irrelevant or useless or that which no longer serves a purpose. Renewal is not just “new” or “novelty” as suggested by its etymology but must definitely involve some changes.


In the Gospel, John proposed behavioural changes for the people who were hope for a better future. On the face of it, he might come across as forbidding. Judgemental as we would call it. But, no. He was not. Instead, he was merely stating the obvious. The word most glaring for the Pharisees and Sadducees was metanoia, that is, change or conversion. Renewal will not make sense if we do not remove that which does not fit into the result that we desire. It often entails behaviour modification.


Whilst Isaiah delivered a beautiful portrait of exciting future, it still remains only a discernible description. What about the changes that must take place interiorly? For example, what have we learnt from 2018 when we had a change in government? Have things improved? By and large, no. There may be compelling reasons why change is that slow but suffice to say, you can bring a monkey out of the jungle, but you can never remove the jungle from the monkey. It is not only depressing. This country despairs of ever tasting a new way of proceeding because the new government does not seem to offer anything except of course the ubiquitous corruption. Listen carefully. I am not campaigning for a return of the ancien régime if we go by the recent experience of the Tg Piai by-election. Neither am I advocating an acceptance of the status quo. What I am trying to point out is, we can change as many governments as we want but without the removal of whatever element that is corrupt in governance, we cannot hope for a better future. It will be business as usual whichever government is in power. In other words, without interior conversion, renewal or change makes no sense. Donning new clothes does not mean anything except that it is merely a change of costumes.


Repentance is the other side of renewal. Without repentance, “renewal”, as condemned John the Baptist, would only be skin-deep. Everything looks OK on the outside but underneath it remains corrupt.


You would have, no doubt, seen this car sticker—No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace. Taking our cue from this, the prophecy of Isaiah is but a description of knowing Jesus in the sense that, it will come to fruition, once we are all turned to Him. Can we ever speak of a Messianic age without knowing the Messiah? The Messianic vision will only be fulfilled once the people know Jesus. Thus, turning to Him, according to John the Baptist, requires that we change our ways, make straight His path. Genuine renewal begins when there is a corresponding interior repentance. So, what is the state of your preparation for Christmas? I suppose the tree is decorated, cards, if any, are sent, tinsels are hung, glitters are sprinkled, gifts are wrapped, house is being cleaned, new clothes are bought, cakes are baked, biscuits are made, carols are sung, dinners are planned, alcohol is served. All in anticipation of Christmas. Yet, do you realise that it is merely a list of external preparation, impressive though it may be? But, would it not be nicer if the same arrangement can be made for our soul as the Collect last week proposed that “we should run forth with resolve to meet His Christ with righteous deeds” and echoed in this week that “No earthly undertaking may hinder those who set out in haste to meet His Son”. It is the 2nd Sunday of Advent. It is never too late to start so that according to the same Collect today “our learning of heavenly wisdom can gain us admittance to His company”. Blessed Advent preparation.