By Frank Wessling
The themes of justice and peace rise up in these weeks of Advent as Christians open a space in our routines to wonder about the coming of new life in Jesus.
We’ve pictured those stirring images from Isaiah proclaimed at Mass for three weeks now, beginning with the feast of Christ the King:
In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established
as the highest mountain and raised above the hills.
All nations shall stream toward it . . .
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
Then on the First Sunday of Advent:
He shall judge the poor with justice and decide aright
for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
And with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
And faithfulness a belt upon his hips.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
And the leopard shall lie down with the kid.
And on the Second Sunday of Advent we hear Jesus’ reply to the messengers from John the Baptist who asked if he, Jesus, really was the Christ, the Anointed One of God. He had not been behaving as expected of Israel’s awaited king. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” ask John’s men. Jesus says:
Go and tell John what you hear and see:
The blind regain their sight,
The lame walk,
Lepers are cleansed,
The deaf hear,
The dead are raised,
And the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
In the Psalm before that Gospel we sang:
The Lord God keeps faith forever,
Secures justice for the oppressed,
Gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets captives free.
The Lord gives sight to the blind;
The Lord raises up those who were bowed down.
So that’s what salvation is like: it is first noticed by the poor and afflicted, the blind and lame and poor, the oppressed, the hungry, captives of all kinds. All of the world’s weak, the lambs, those who feel and are bowed down, are raised up by the Lord. As this reign of God spreads across the earth, they, along with the “ruthless” who are transformed by “the rod of his mouth” enjoy the justice that allows lambs and lions to be together in enchanting peace.
It is a central doctrine of the Catholic Church that we together are the body of Christ extended through time, on the same mission seen for Israel by Isaiah and established for the whole world in Jesus. If we’ve become inattentive and lazy about what we are supposed to be doing, Advent rings a very clear wake-up bell.
To keep Christ in Christmas seems to include a recalling and recommitment to the work of justice and peace.