Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A
Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 71(72):1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12
4 December 2022
Witness to justice and solidarity
How do we find hope in a hopeless situation? Even if that question does not concern us personally, we can still ask ourselves how we can engender hope to those who live in the darkness of war, violence, poverty, calamity and hardship.
The Word of God on this Second Sunday of Advent provides us with a basis for a hope-filled future. It summons us to work towards God’s vision of a world of communion, harmony and life flourishing for all. In fact, such a vision necessitates a critique of the status quo and social action to bring about justice for the poor and marginalised.
In the first reading, Isaiah presents us with a radical notion of the divine mandate. Prophesizing a new future for his people after the exile, Isaiah invites the Israelites to prepare themselves for that future. The prophet speaks of the day when God will bring justice to the earth. The new ruler – quite unlike those who have ruled over them – will make systemic reparations for the poor and the marginalised. The divinely governed world will indeed be detoxified. It will not be a threat to the oppressed. The new world will indeed be safe, hospitable and life-giving for the most vulnerable.
Isaiah describes this rightly governed society in terms of the harmonious partnership between the seemingly irreconcilable forces: the wolf with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf with the lion and the cow with the bear. These metaphors are not mere poetic and whimsical ideas. They express a dream and a summons for believers to build a new society based not on the principle of individualism, as the Pope said in Let Us Dream, but on the common good. It is the stuff of a utopia that Martin Luther King’s dream of social justice and racial equality was built on.
This is a sobering and poignant lesson for us today. Like the Jewish exiles of old, we find ourselves in a new captivity where the bearings we relied on are fast receding. Instead, we are surrounded by an unfamiliar and even hostile landscape. No longer sheltered in the safe harbour of Christendom, we must navigate the treacherous waters of a post-Christian world. Like the remnants of Israel, we must learn to create a new society of solidarity, compassion and justice even at the cost of our privilege and comfort as opposed to the dystopia of exploitation, inhospitality and exclusion.
The Gospel tells us about the ministry of John the Baptist, an eccentric who lived in no man’s land and survived on a strange diet of locusts and honey. Like Isaiah before him, John the Baptist was the lone voice that amplified God’s message. His critique of the imperial system became the divine narrative. They both point us to the active presence and power of God in history. They encourage us to live as God’s faithful disciples and instruments for the world.
Christians are countercultural and prophetic and insofar as we dare to name, to critique and to offer a viable alternative to the anti-Gospel attitudes of the world around us. More importantly, we seek to reframe the harsh, unjust and inhumane realities that many experience into a vision of hope and promote those values that will lead to the fulfilment of that vision. We show the way to a culture of encounter and acceptance by a radical discipleship of love and compassion, solidarity and service. We accompany the victims of injustice in the journey to freedom with a sense of total commitment and fidelity, even when the fight in favour of God’s justice for them necessitates a witness of courage and hope. As disciples of Jesus, we are committed to building a better, a more humane, welcoming and inclusive society not by giving in to fear and suspicion, but by fostering a culture of encounter, respect and acceptance.
As true believers, we cannot remain content with the status quo, especially when that status quo is less than what God wants for us as individuals and as a community. Australia is a wonderful country but where it is in terms of its treatment of the indigenous people, the asylum seekers etc. should galvanise us into action. 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr lamented that the Christian churches were largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading people to higher levels of justice. We cannot talk about a vision of a banquet of the mountain while neglecting the slums down here. We cannot wax lyrical about a new Jerusalem while forgetting the task of building a new Redfern or a new Mount Druitt.
Guided by the kingdom vision of Jesus, we can live up to our prophetic call to be a beacon of hope for humanity. We can be a Church that advocates life at all costs and promotes peaceful life in a war-torn and violent world; a Church that models justice in an age of greed, consumerism, and power; a Church centred on the risen Christ, empowering a consciousness of the whole. Let this Advent nurture our faith, strengthen our hope and bolster our witness to divine intent for the world.