Paul's letter to the Romans has a hopeful lesson for us.
And we sure do need hope these days!
We look ahead to unsettling times…
days, and months, and years, of chaos and uncertainty.
Already we are disturbed,
both by the promises and by the protests.
We are unsettled,
both by suspicions of vote fraud
and by the possibility of recounts.
We are disturbed by news of government appointees
whose views threaten to overturn
the work for a clean environment and health care for the poor,
to rebuild barriers that take away the rights
of immigrants and minorities and women.
We need hope.
Paul says that the scriptures are written to encourage us,
so that “we might derive hope” from them.
And the scriptures do give us hope.
Isaiah's prophecy in our first reading seems like déjà vu.
King David's successors are not good leaders,
and the Israelites are weary and fearful.
Isaiah tries to calm their fears
and give them hope that a new king will—eventually—
come to bring justice.
The people will eventually come together in a peaceful world—
“no harm, no destruction anywhere.”
It's the echo of that song we love to sing:
“God will reign,
and we'll walk with each other as sisters and brothers,
united in love.”
With that hopeful promise in mind,
we hear Matthew's strident warnings
in the voice of John the Baptizer
and the baptismal anointing of Jesus of Nazareth
as the one who will “fulfill God's justice.”
Most scholars believe this gospel was written
between 80 and 90 A.D., possibly as late 110,
not by the apostle Matthew
but by an anonymous Jewish man
standing on the edge
between traditional and non-traditional Judaism.
The community was divided about Jesus' nature,
so this gospel quotes a lot of scriptures
to show Jesus fulfilling Old Testament messianic prophecies.
Matthew has John the Baptizer
challenge the Scribes and Pharisees
who come out to see what's going on—
what's with all the people gathering around,
confessing their sins,
John thinks that they show up out of curiosity,
so he challenges those synagogue leaders,
calling them a “brood of vipers,” a “pack of snakes.”
He doesn't believe they're serious about changing their ways.
But he believes that the ordinary people are serious,
so he encourages them to act with justice.
They must change their lives and act with love
so they will be able to recognize the promised Messiah.
Then Jesus comes to be baptized.
Matthew creates this dialogue to teach the community about Jesus:
that he has God's approval,
that he is anointed by God,
that he is related to God as God's beloved son.
We believe those lessons from Matthew,
even though our understanding of their meaning
is in terms of our 21st century worldview
rather than Matthew's 1st century one.
We give our assent
every time we profess our faith in the Creed of our tradition.
We give our assent
every time we make a decision for justice and peace.
Thus we step forward in this Advent season of hope.
We get ready for the coming of Christ in our world,
the anointed one.
We are confident that we will find him in each other,
and in everyone we meet,
if we are faithful in following the way of Jesus…
if we live in love.
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m./Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue
Toledo, OH 43606
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
Mailing address: 3156 Doyle Street, Toledo, OH 43608-2006