Making dreams real – Second Sunday in Advent 2010

 

We lit our second Advent candle today, remembering the ministry of the prophets, who taught Israel to hope for the coming of God’s kingly rule, and how to prepare for that longed-for state of affairs. Our reading from Isaiah imagines the perfect king – the shoot from the stock of Jesse – the king of David’s line who will judge in justice and usher in a time of perfect harmony. So beautiful, so excellent will his rule be, that the pagan nations will turn to Israel for guidance. The creation of the chosen people Israel, the family of Abraham, was not merely for their own blessing, but to be a source of God’s blessing to all the nations. St Paul picks up this theme in the Letter to the Romans: Messiah comes in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

 

There is a song that has a certain popularity at this time of year: “When a Child is born”. It speaks of the sense of new hope at each birth; and goes on to speak of the world waiting in hope:

And all of this happens because the world is waiting,
Waiting for one child. Black, white, yellow? No one knows.
But a child that will grow up and turn tears to laughter,
Hate to love, war to peace and everyone to everyone’s neighbour, And misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten forever.

It’s all a dream, an illusion now.
It must come true sometime soon somehow.
All across the land dawns a brand new morn –
This comes to pass when a child is born.

We empathise with the longing, and recognise here the same longing that fills Isaiah’s prophecy. What makes this song not so appropriate for Christians is the sense that this wonder child has not yet appeared, and that the longing for God’s kingdom – which is what it really is – is “all a dream, an illusion now”.  Au contraire, says the Gospel.

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry announces that the Lord is nigh: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John the Baptist, John the Forerunner, tells us that the time of longing and waiting is at an end: the child has been born; the dream has been made real. Jesus is here.

 

What must we do in order to see him for what he is? In order to enter the world where God rules in justice? In order to find our place in right relationship with God and each other? “Repent,” says John. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance”. Repent: change your mind: turn around: fix your eyes and direction upon God, and not on other things. If we are really looking for a changed world where justice reigns, where there are fair shares for all, where people can relate to each other in peaceful and wholesome ways: then we start with ourselves. Don’t be complacent, says John. Don’t fool yourself with fine words or a sense of superiority. Do not say, we have Abraham for our father. We are the chosen. What the Judge looks for is: lives that bear fruit that show a turning to God. It’s not enough to share the longing, the sentiment: unless we make it real by repentance.

 

Because God has given substance to the ancient human longing by taking our flesh and walking among us as Jesus the Messiah, the prophet of Nazareth; in him “the kingdom of heaven comes near”. God has made his promise real; it becomes real for us as we come to him in repentance and faith. 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