Christ the King Catholic Church
Today the Prophet Isaiah speaks these words: "A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse and from his roots a bud shall blossom."
The prophet promises that from the family of Jesse, who was the father of Israel's great king David and the grandfather of wise King Solomon, a new king would come.
In order to understand the impact of Isaiah's words, we have to understand what was happening at the time at which he spoke them. The Kingdom of Judah, that once boasted great kings like King David and King Solomon, had had one bad king after another. One king after another turned away from the covenant that God had made with his Chosen People. About 750 years before the coming of Jesus, King Ahaz ascended the throne. He inherited a kingdom that was surrounded by threatening and powerful neighbors and a kingdom that was troubled by internal divisions.
Ahaz decides to enter into a political and military alliance with the neighboring kingdom of Assyria.
But there was a price he had to pay for Assyria's protection. And that price was to abandon the God of Israel in favor of the gods of Assyria. King Ahaz denounced the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He denounced the God who had brought the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land.
He denounced the God who had anointed David and Solomon as kings. King Ahaz even sacrificed his own son in an act of child sacrifice to the gods of Assyria.
King Ahaz sold the soul of his nation for a false security.
Judah could not have moved further away from the God who had made a covenant with the Chosen People and had made them a people peculiar to himself. King Ahaz could not be further from David and Solomon.
In the midst of this terrible situation in which people saw their covenant with God being ripped apart, Isaiah delivers his prophecy of hope. "A shoot shall sprout
from the stump of Jesse and from his roots a bud shall blossom." He tells the people that from this ruined line of kings, from what he calls the 'stump of Jesse,' God will raise up a new ruler who will fulfill the hopes and longings of both the people and of God. This new ruler will bring peace to the earth. In some of the most poignant language of the Hebrew scriptures, Isaiah paints a beautiful word picture of this new era: the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb; the calf and the young lion shall browse together and there shall be no harm or ruin on all of God's holy mountain.
It's the language that has inspired many of the Christmas cards we send and receive. This promise of a new king brought renewed hope to people in what seemed to be a hopeless situation.
And that is the message of our scriptures on this Second Sunday of Advent. The promised Messiah that the Children of Israel awaited truly is the Lord of all hopefulness. The promise of the coming of this king gave generations of people the courage to remain faithful to the covenant that God had made with them. It gave people the courage to remain faithful to God at a time when King Ahaz, and many others, had abandoned the God of Israel in a time of great unrest and insecurity.
We, too, live in a time of great unrest and insecurity. We, too, live in a time in which we can be tempted to sell our souls for a false security. As People of the Promise, as the spiritual descendants of the people of Israel, as people to whom Jesus has made the promise to return, we, too, are tempted to put our trust in false gods.
The Jesus who once came, whose birth we prepare to celebrate at Christmas, has promised to return again and when he returns that picture that Isaiah painted of the Messianic era will be completely realized. As Christians we are called to live every moment of our lives in light of the hope of Jesus' return. We are called to be messengers of hope to a world that has grown tired of waiting.
We can be tempted to put our hope for happiness and security in false gods just as King Ahaz put his trust in the Assyrians. Our culture today presents us with many gods that promise us happiness and security. Among the gods vying for our allegiance and our worship are materialism, hedonism and permissiveness.
The god of materialism tells us that our happiness and security can be found in what we possess. This false god tells us that happiness and security come from owning all that we can. Every year on Black Friday we witness people worshipping this god as people are trampled and even killed in the stampede to own that big screen tv or the newest electronic gadget. This god tells us that our ultimate happiness and security can be found in the things we own.
The god of hedonism tells us that pleasure is the ultimate goal of human life. If something feels good, we should do it. And in our culture this god calls us to the altar of immediate gratification. Any relationship, any goal, any project that requires sacrifice and work cannot be tolerated by this god. This god is appealing because the god of hedonism teaches us to worship ourselves, deceiving us into believing that we are the center of the universe.
The god of permissiveness tells us that our ultimate fulfillment and happiness is found in freedom; freedom to do whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want. The god of permissiveness would tell us that pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth are actually virtues to be celebrated rather than the deadly sins they really are. Rather than taming our passions, our culture today calls us to become slaves to our passions. Tum on the television any night of the week and, in so many ways, we see the deadly sins being celebrated and promoted as the way to happiness by our popular culture.
When it comes to happiness and security there is always a temptation to look for short cuts. King Ahaz knew that temptation and he put his trust in the Assyrians rather than God. The culture in which we live today proposes many short cuts to us and many people are tempted to look for happiness and security in a world apart from God.
The Church reminds us during this Season of Advent of the faithfulness of God to his promises. Long ago he promised to send a Savior and, in the fullness of time, that Savior was born. Jesus has promised that he will return again and that when he returns, at an hour no one knows, the Kingdom of God will be fully established among us. Those who wait in joyful hope for that return, living the values of the Kingdom already here and now, will have a place in that Kingdom where the calf
and the young lion shall browse together, and the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb.
Shakespeare's Hamlet once asked the famous question, "To be or not to be, that is the question." Advent asks of all ofus another question, "To live our lives in joyful hope of Jesus' return and to place our hope for happiness and security in him
- or not." That is the real question.