Our first scripture for this morning’s Mass is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Isaiah.
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, one of the most beautifully written texts in all of the Bible is about how God is acting in the very real circumstances of Israelite history, particularly the catastrophic events of the Assyrian invasion of the lands of Israel in the year 720 BC and the Babylonian invasion in the year 587 BC. The latter event would bring the Kingdom of David to a terrifying end. All would be lost. The city of Jerusalem would fall. The temple would be desecrated and destroyed. The royal family of David would be executed. The people would be taken into forced servitude to their enemies in far off Babylon.
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah is casting the divine light of revelation into this darkness- what is God doing and why?
Today’s reading from Isaiah speaks about the aftermath of the events of 587 BC.
The prophet gives the Israelites a God’s eye view of their troubled history.
According the vision of the prophet, God sees the Israelites in their exile, far away from their ancestral lands, languishing in far off Babylon, and acts to bring the Israelites home. No obstacle will stand in his way, the earth itself will be moved, changed, so as to enable the Israelites to return to their lost homelands.
Once they have returned, the Israelites would ascend the “holy mountain”, which is a symbolic way of referring to the temple mount, the place in Jerusalem where the temple had been built. Entering into a restored sanctuary, they would meet God as their Savior and Deliverer. God would gather together a people that had been scattered. God would restore his people. Everything lost would be found- land, king, temple, covenant.
This vision is understood as one of the great messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.
By Messiah or messianic, is meant that God would send an extraordinary person to his people who would act to set both Israel and the world right. The Messiah would do what no mere king or prophet or priest ever had been able to do. And it seems that Isaiah is telling the Israelites that it is God himself who will become this Messiah.
What does this text have to do with us?
We Christians believe that this vision from the prophet Isaiah foreshadows the revelation of God in Christ. Christ the Lord is the Messiah and Christ the Lord is God. He gathers what had been scattered and recovers what was lost. He gathers the people into a new temple, and in that sanctuary, God reveals himself as our Savior and Deliverer.
All this is happening, meaning the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled in the Church, for the Church is the means by which God in Christ gathers the nations into a relationship with himself and once gathered, invites the nations into his restored temple, which is what we experience as the Mass. In the Mass, God reveals himself in Christ. In the Mass, God in Christ comes to us as our Savior and Deliverer.
Our second scripture is an excerpt from the second letter of St. Peter. In this text, the Apostle Peter present an apocalyptic scenario in which the world comes to an end. This kind of text is frightening because many will take it as a predication of something that could happen at any moment. Is the world coming to an end? Is that the message of this particular scripture? What does St. Peter foresee?
Actually, this text is not so much a prediction, but an observation about the world and everything in it. Nothing lasts. Everything has an expiration date.
Even something as big and powerful as the planet will one day come to an end. The Apostle Peter is inviting us, not to fret about the specifics in regards to this end, but come to accept that our faith in Christ compels us to accept that nothing in this world is forever, nothing in this world is meant to last.
We are not created simply for this world, but for heaven. This world is taking us somewhere, it is not our final destination.
Our souls became dark and sinister when we forget St. Peter’s insight and forget that the purpose of this world is to draw us closer to God. The world is intended by God to be a means by which we can come to know him, serve him and love him and in doing so, realize or bring to fulfillment the purpose for which he created us- to know, love and serve God.
Instead, and much too often, we reduce the world to something we use only for our selfish purposes, not so much to know, love and serve God, but for the sake of the acquisition of wealth, pleasure, power and honors. Fixating on these things, we lose sight of our true purpose- and we forget, that one day all worldly things come to an end, in our passage from this world to heaven we take nothing from this world with us.
If the purpose of our lives has been defined only by worldly attainments what will become of us when through death, all the wealth we have accumulated, power we have seized, pleasure we have pursued, and honors we have grasped have been “burned” away in our passage through death? Remember, the things of this world are not given to us simply to satisfy our desires, but to prepare us for heaven. How are we preparing ourselves for heaven right now?
This is the intense, soul-searching question that St. Peter insists that we answer today.
Finally, in today’s Gospel, John the Baptist enters the stage in the great drama of our salvation in Christ.
His voice is loud and clear- repent! Change your life! Why? God is coming into the world. And indeed God has come. How? In Christ the Lord God has come into the world and has come, not metaphorically or symbolically, but literally.
In Jesus Christ, the one, true God has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. God has entered into human history and has, in Jesus Christ, met us face to face. Christ is not a myth or legend, but a living, divine person.
John the Baptist is a strange and fascinating figure. Remembered as the last of the Biblical prophets, he is identified in the Gospel of Luke as an Israelite priest.
The priest John has set aside his priestly vestments and left his service to the temple. Why? He is preparing the Israelites for the coming of a new temple.
This temple, will be Christ the Lord himself, not a building made of stone by men, but a Body built of flesh and blood by God. The Body of the Lord Jesus is the new temple.
In our encounter with Christ the Lord, we meet God, we see him, and he offers us a relationship, holy communion with his divine life!
With this extraordinary revelation, we come full circle in terms of today’s scriptures.
God acts, even right now, to gather his people into his temple. Remember, the Lord’s temple is the “holy mountain” that the prophet Isaiah refers to. And this temple is the Body of the Lord Jesus himself- a Body and Blood that we adore and receive in the Mass.
In this Body and Blood, God reveals himself as our Savior and Deliverer. He saves us from ourselves. He delivers us from the power of sin, death, and the devil.
Through his Body and Blood, God in Christ draws us from this world and prepares us for a new world, a heaven that is yet to come. All this is what the Mass is for. All this is what the Mass is about.
The Mass is not a mere expression of culture or faith-based entertainment. The Mass is not just our songs and stories. The Mass is not just a communal celebration of faith and values. The Mass is not just whatever we want it to be.
The Mass is the revelation of the one, living and true God, given to you in the Blessed Sacrament of his Body and his Blood. In that Holy Communion you receive God. In this Mass, you cross a threshold from earth to heaven, and ascend the holy mountain, and come face to face with the God who, in his Body and in His Blood, saves and delivers you.