Our first scripture is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Isaiah, one of the most frequently cited Book of Bible in terms of the Church’s scriptural readings for Mass (especially for the Season of Advent).
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah was written to provide what could be called a “God’s eye view” of troubling and catastrophic events that overtook the Israelites.
These events were the invasion of the lands of Israel in the year 720 BC by the Assyrians and another invasion by the Babylonian Empire in the year 587 BC. The invasion in 720 BC decimated the people of Israel and then in 587 BC, the Kingdom of David came to horrifying end, as the city of Jerusalem was ransacked and destroyed, the royal family brutally killed, and the temple, the sanctuary of God on earth was desecrated and burned to the ground.
Nothing was left. The Israelites lost everything that they believed mattered and in their anguish begged to know what God was doing and why.
The prophet Isaiah provides his answer to the cries of the Israelites, and reassures them not to lose hope. Why? Because God can and will set things right. All that they have lost will be restored- covenant, land, king and temple. This would be impossible for the Israelites. But it is not impossible for God.
Isaiah foresees that at a moment that God determines, he will send to Israel a person of extraordinary power called the Messiah, and through this Messiah, God will restore his people. God will set things right.
This is what the prophet Isaiah describes to us in the scriptural excerpt that you heard as the Church’s first reading for Mass today.
What kind of man will the Messiah be? How will he set things right? If you seek the identity of the Messiah look for the one whom the prophet Isaiah describes.
We Christians believe that the person Isaiah describes as the Messiah is Jesus the Lord. God in Christ has acted in an extraordinary way and through Christ has returned to Israelites what they lost after the catastrophic events of 720 BC and 587 BC. The Lord Jesus is God’s answer to the cries of the Israelites to know what God is doing and why.
God’s answer is extraordinary, because in Jesus Christ, God reveals that he is himself the Messiah, and he is not only a Messiah for the Israelites, but for the whole world. In Jesus Christ, God himself comes into the world to set things right, and what he restores to the Israelites he also gives as an opportunity for all the nations.
We could spend hours teasing out the implications of what God has done in Christ, but what you need to know right now is that the Lord Jesus is the one whom the prophet Isaiah describes and foresees and also that the Lord Jesus is God, the one, true God, who in Christ accepted a human nature and lived a real human life and it is in this way, by becoming a man, that God in Christ sets things right and restores what seemed to be hopelessly lost.
If is for this reason, that God has become man, revealing himself by accepting a human nature in Christ, that is the reason that St. Paul, in our second scripture for Mass, an excerpt from his first letter to the Thessalonians, insists that we rejoice.
Why should we rejoice? Because God has revealed himself to us in Christ and this revelation is a “game changer” for how we understand who God is and how we understand who we are.
In Jesus Christ we see that God is not just some kind of universal force, abstract concept, or power that exists in utter indifference to his creation.
Instead, God is a living, divine person who invites us to know him and share a relationship with him. God makes this relationship accessible to us through Christ. By accepting a human nature from us, he invites us to accept a share in his divine nature. In the humanity of Christ, he makes a kind of bridge by which we can have access to his divinity.
Why would he bother? I mean let’s admit it, while some of us might be interesting, we really aren’t all that interesting. And besides, none of us has anything to offer to God that he doesn’t already have. God doesn’t need us.
And yet God becomes man in Christ. God accepts a human nature and lives a real human life. He could have just barked orders at us or dazzled us with terrifying signs and wonders, but he decided he would meet us face to face and speak to us as one speaks to a friend. Why?
We Christians believe that in Jesus Christ we see the answer to why God bothered and that answer is because God loves us, and more than that, because God is love, and even though we are undeserving of his love, and for the most part, unwilling to accept his love, he still loves us- and to demonstrate his love, he reveals himself in Christ and then he acts to remove from our way the obstacles that inhibit our knowing and loving him. In Christ, God forgives our sins, defeats the devil, rescues us from the power of death. God even acts in Christ to save us from ourselves.
This is what the whole Bible is about. This is what the Gospel is all about. It is not a book of life lessons, but a book of extraordinary revelations. It is not a self-help strategy, but how God acted strategically to help us when we could not help ourselves.
It is for this reason, that God became man in Christ, that the Apostle Paul insists that we should rejoice.
Finally, in Christ’s Gospel we hear about John the Baptist. Who is he and why is he so important?
We know from the Gospel of Luke that John the Baptist was an Israelite priest, and all the Gospels tell us that this Israelite priest named John had set aside his priestly vestments and left the temple in Jerusalem. In fact, he was calling people away from the temple, insisting that they prepare themselves for a new temple.
This new temple would render the old temple null and void, a mere artifact of culture, rather than a sanctuary for the living God.
John seemed to many to be great and important, a prophet, a man on a mission from God, but John didn’t think of himself that way.
He thought of himself as only a messenger, a servant of someone much greater and more important, and the one on whose behalf he was speaking, the one who he was serving, was God himself- and God was coming himself into the world, and he was coming to build a new temple, offer a new covenant, establish a new kingdom and offer to the world a new way of worship.
Of course, what John was saying really stirred people up, especially those people who felt that they would have a lot to lose if what John was saying was actually true. This is why the Gospel of John tells us in today’s Gospel text that some very concerned priests from Jerusalem went to see John. They are very upset with what John is saying and what he is doing- and why wouldn’t they be? John is saying that the way of life that they know is about to be transformed forever.
We Christians know that the one whom John served, the one whom he speaking for, is Christ the Lord- Jesus.
Jesus is God, who builds himself a new temple out of flesh and blood, for the new temple is the Body of Christ. The Lord Jesus further reveals a new covenant, which means a new relationship with God, that happens when people accept a relationship with him. And also, the Lord Jesus sets up a new kingdom, a reality we know as the Church and offers through that kingdom the Church a new way of worship that we know and experience in the Mass.
The Mass is the fullest expression and experience this side of heaven of who the Lord Jesus really and truly is. The Mass is what the new temple, the new covenant, the new kingdom and the new worship revealed by God in Christ is all about.
Why is this important?
We are in the midst of the season of Advent, a special time during which the Church asks us to prepare ourselves for the great and mysterious celebration of Christmas. Think about that word- christmas- “Christ-Mass”. We are not just preparing ourselves for an annual winter festival, but for an act of solemn worship.
We are preparing ourselves to enter into the new temple. We are preparing ourselves for the Mass of Christ, in which, Christ will offer himself to us and we will have to decide whether or not we will offer our lives to him.
That’s what is at stake. At the Christ-Mass you give your life over to Jesus Christ, and become as John the Baptist was, his messenger and his servant. That’s what the Christ-Mass is all about. That’s why we need all the days and weeks of Advent to prepare. We are preparing ourselves for an event that has the power to change our lives.
Now I know that for many, the spiritual senses in regards to the Christ-Mass have been dulled and many have become distracted from its true significance. Some think of the Christ-Mass merely as a faith based concert others as an obligatory seasonal custom. Others haven’t a clue and aren’t at all interested.
But for us Christians, the Christ-Mass is the moment of truth. The Christ-Mass is the moment when we remember how God in Christ changed the world, changed everything, and we come to terms with the demanding fact, the divine revelation- that because of what God in Christ changed, our lives have to change too!