The second Sunday of Advent gives us the familiar scene of John the Baptist calling for people to repent and prepare for the Lord. Matthew portrays John in the mode of Elijah, the Old Testament prophet who ascended into heaven and was expected to return before the coming of the Messiah (2 Kgs 1:8, 2:11; Zec 13:4; Mal 4:5). Boldly, Matthew positions John in opposition to powerful religious and aristocratic authorities, such as the Pharisees and Sadducees. John directs them to produce good fruit, to do good works and to not rely merely on their ancestry for salvation. John’s critiques of powerful leaders ultimately lead to his death at the hands of Herod Antipas, a Roman client ruler in Galilee (Mt 14:1-12; Mk 6:14-29; Lk 9:7-9). John’s example can inspire modern readers to speak truth to power and can call on leaders to live righteously and promote a just society.
Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. (Is 11:5)
What actions can I take to promote peace and harmony in my community?
Do I support leaders who promote justice in society?
Do I treat people hospitably?
At the end of the Gospel, John describes Jesus as a judge who punishes those who have not lived well or repented for their actions. Jesus’ “winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:12). Matthew uses commonplace agrarian imagery to help his audience imagine Jesus separating the good from the bad, or the valuable wheat from the useless chaff, actions that would have been routine on threshing floors.
It can be daunting to look forward to an unknown period of judgment. Many of us anticipate a final judgment that is in the far distant future. But today’s readings ask us: What can we do today to prepare for the Lord, as John proclaimed?
The first reading from Isaiah envisions a time when a leader will judge righteously. Caring for people who are poor and meek, the leader will be clothed in justice and faithfulness. This leader promotes harmony—so much that even natural animal enemies will be friends. “The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb…. The lion shall eat hay like the ox” (Is 11:6, 7). While Isaiah’s vision may seem unlikely, his assertions that leaders must promote justice and protect the vulnerable are imperative both then and now.
Likewise, in the second reading, Paul advocates for a harmonious society in which people imitate Christ by being hospitable to one another. Paul calls on the Roman community to “live in harmony with one another…to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:5-6). Paul reminds his audience that they were welcomed by Christ, so they should welcome one another. Hospitality is essential for creating a community based on love and respect.
As we continue through Advent and prepare for the Lord, let us remember to look for Christ in all people and treat one another with dignity and respect. Like John the Baptist, we should hold our leaders to high standards and urge them to promote harmony, not sow discord. Expecting leaders to create just societies should not be an idealized vision of the past; rather, it should be a goal for our current reality.