1. REFLECTION ON THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A.
Theme: “THE VOICE THAT BREAKS THE SILENCE”
By Rev Fr Gilbert Alaribe
Today we celebrate the Mass of the 2nd Sunday of Advent. At the centre of today’s celebration is the figure of John the Baptist: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness!”
Before the Messiah must come, a voice needed to be heard. That voice was speaking out now after over 400 years of silence between Israel and her God. The last of the mouthpieces of God in Israel, the prophet Malachi, had said of the coming of the Messiah: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Malachi 4:5 – 6). Imagine a situation where the voice of God becomes silent in our lives and in our affairs. We know how tough our relationships become when an unusual silence descends upon it.
John the Baptist, was that voice that came to break the silence of the heavens. If you want the Messiah to enter into your life, be ready to hear again that voice that breaks every silence. Where do we need to hear God’s voice again in our lives and in our nation?
The voice is meant to introduce the Messiah. So it is the voice of awakening! In Israel at the time, corruption was rife, because everyone went about pursuing his or her self-interest in the absence of God’s voice. The voice of John was calling the people to become aware of something spectacular about to happen, of someone on his way, whose sandals not even John could untie. How sensitive are we to the presence of that Mighty Man in our personal and national life? And how willing are we to allow him to have his way in our life and our affairs?
We can get back to some history. Exactly 9 years ago, on the 5th of December 2013 Nelson Mandela died at the ripe age of 95 in Johannesburg, South Africa. We remember him today as the voice that inspired humanity to dream and work for peace and reconciliation. At the time Nelson Mandela came out of prison, and went on to become the president of South Africa, many Blacks who had suffered for years under the Apartheid regime, wanted him to take a hardline towards the Whites and make them to pay for their inhumane treatment of Blacks. Mandela chose to be the voice of peace and reconciliation, instead of violence and vengeance. The voice of Mandela was that type of voice that can make the way possible for the Messiah to appear.
Yesterday a voice circulated in the social media, inviting people to Sit-at-home for days on end, instead of making the necessary preparation for Christmas. In the days of John the Baptist, similar voices were equally heard, inviting people to take up arms and fight against the Roman oppressors of the time. Such voices encourage us to build walls between peoples and adherents of different religions, and so to inaugurate a regime of silence and hatred and violence.
Today, Nigeria is torn between these competing voices in our national life. We can accept to listen to the voice of tribalism and religious bigotry, of the voice of envy and hatred, and so become the agents of darkness all around us. The voice of violence tells us to build walls instead of bridges. It is the voice that tells us it is acceptable to kidnap your relative and accept ransom on his head, or to kill and maim to settle political scores. That voice insinuates to us that values mean nothing, as long as we can make a profit out of our corrupt ways. The voice of violence and vengeance cannot lead us to heal and genuine prosperity. The voice of violence can silence the providence of God in our national life.
The voice of John the Baptist was one that invited the people to prepare the way of the Lord, to level the valleys and make his path straight! It was the voice of peace, and repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Another fact about the voice of John the Baptist was the place where it was heard. God’s voice spoke out from the wilderness. The wilderness was a place of aridity, of barrenness. It was from such a place that the voice that will inaugurate the Messianic time did echo from. I was wondering why that voice did not choose to speak out from the city, or even from the temple. Why didn’t that voice speak out from any of the sacred religious places of Israel? It is as if John the Baptist gives a lie to those who attempt to monopolize God’s voice by their control of places of religious significance or of sacred times.
If God could speak to Israel from an arid place like the wilderness, perhaps, God can still speak to us even when we go through a period of doubts and conflicts and darkness. The voice of God can break through our doubt, our loneliness, and our failures. Expect the voice of God to speak to you from very unlikely places in your life. That is the only way we can feel the presence of the Messiah.
Finally, this should be obvious: wherever the voice is silenced, it is difficult for God to come in – in our homes, in our places of work and trade, and in our national life. No matter how uncomfortable that voice sounds, it is always better to allow it to speak. The voice of John the Baptist was an uncomfortable sound for the religious leaders of Israel, and yet they trouped out to hear him speak: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and even the soldiers. John had the temerity to call them a brood of vipers. And yet they came to hear him speak. Often we are not comfortable with those who tell us some hard truths about ourselves and our situation. And yet that is often how the Messiah can come into our lives – by borrowing the voices of those who poke us in the ear and warn us to change our ways. Imagine our many loved ones who, because they mean well to us, condemn our pride, our self-centredness, and our excesses. We may have banished their voices from our consciousness over these years. We can start today to hear their voices once again if we are to be ready for the Messiah to come into our lives.
2. REFLECTION ON THE READINGS – 2ND SUNDAY, Advent – Yr. (A)
(Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15: 4-9; Matt. 3: 1-12)
WHEN THE EARTH IS FULL OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD…
By Fr KCK
The loss of paradise by our first parents hurt the fullness of the knowledge of God and the hitherto harmony existing among creatures. For instance, Adam who used to relax with God became afraid of God’s footsteps and the animals became aggressive towards each other. For the human person, irrational appetites developed and were sharpened. The human being was something like an aggressive animal too. No person may be fully evil or bad, however to the degree we are able to be filled with the knowledge of God, to that degree we destroy the animals in us. It is this vision of the possibility of being replete with the fullness of God, brought by the presence of Christ, that the prophets like Isaiah in today’s first reading had started to foresee in the dim distance at their time. In Advent, we are re-living and reminiscing the prophetic time of cosmic peace, where tranquillity and friendship can reign.
The lives of the animals, which hitherto cannot live together are used to portray what a friendly life inspired by the knowledge of God can look like. The readings mentioned several dangerous animals: the wolf, the panther, the lion, the bear, the cobra, and the viper that are naturally opposed to such other animals: the lamb, the calf, the ox, the infant, the boy and the child. The only relationship that exists between these animals is ‘Eat or Be Eaten.’ However, in a rare vision of cosmic peace, the prophet imagined a friendly situation existing between these animals.
When human life loses the knowledge of God, it can also become like those of the wolf, panther, lion, viper, bear, or cobra. For instance, when we come as friends to betray, we become like the wolf in a sheep’s cloth. When in greed we appropriate what belongs to others, we start eating the lion’s share, and when like the viper we strike and kill, we are called treacherous people. At the height of human irrationality, when God’s spirit abandons the human person, the human person becomes even more destructive than any animal. The kind of things we see and hear today is despicable, to say the least. Young people butcher their fellow person in ways lions rarely do to other animals. We can also think of family feuds that remain unresolvable and other forms of betrayal.
Advent tells us of the immense possibilities of friendship and tolerance we can achieve. Imagine, a panther lying down with a kid or a child putting hands in the mouth of a viper. Imagine two families or brothers that never used to see each other sitting down together to dialogue, imagine the husband and wife speaking one more time in a heart-to-heart chat, imagine communities dropping the weapons of war and embracing peace, and imagine a church where no one gossips against the other and every smile and laughter is sincere. Imagine what we can achieve with the knowledge of God.
But this is not a mere wishful thinking of a sort. It is achievable. And that is why it is the challenge of today’s good news. This possibility lies in the call of Advent – the call to HOPE and REPENTANCE. We have these summons in the second reading and the gospel. While hope and repentance will continue to come to us in this Advent as great themes for our reflections, today, it is important to know that they inevitably are paths to the knowledge of God that create an unimaginable space for tolerance and friendliness. In hope, we imagine the possibilities that we have. Just as Faith is the virtue of the Will, and Love is the virtue of the Emotions, Hope is the virtue of the faculty of Imagination. Hope creates the power of tolerance and patience because we can imagine some great possibilities on the paths we want to travel. Because of our positive imaginations, we can tolerate and we can endure patiently. That is the gift of hope. When people who used to be enemies imagine what they can enjoy in peace, hope is in action. Then they can be able to tolerate and work towards harmony. In repentance, though we may have fallen in the past, we know that we can still rise and restore our life and system. In repentance, we beat our chests and acknowledge when we have been agents of destruction, when we have not lived out the beautiful image of God in us. In repentance, we rise from our experiences of decay and wickedness and turn new leaves of going back to God and to each other.
As such, in hope and repentance, we open ourselves to the possibilities of receiving the spirit of God, we open ourselves to being filled with the knowledge of God. We recover those capabilities of working and living in peace and tranquillity. We kill all those animal tendencies in us. And we become friends.
Is there any way we are into any form of enmity with anyone, let us not pretend it, this Advent brings the message of friendliness, tolerance, and peace to us. May God open us up to desire peace and pursue what makes for tolerance and living together.