If John the Baptist were to show up in our neighborhood, would we go to listen to him or would we rather, instead, dismiss him as an eccentric, paranoid, possibly mentally ill street person with delusions of being a preacher? Somehow, although he was a wild man even for his own times, John the Baptist drew vast crowds, attracting those who were burdened by sin, overwhelmed by life's problems, hopeless, disheartened and disillusioned. The fact that he had such a following suggests that the crowds were not receiving the spiritual nourishment they needed through institutional religion; in fact, they were starving for "Good News" and so were ready for conversion.
We, too, are living in a spiritual wilderness, languishing in a desert of soullessness, corruption, violence, lies, exploitation, and self-serving attitudes and behaviors; we, too, are starving for "Good News." The challenge is to listen to that Voice crying out in the wilderness and to know that it calls us to repentance, watchfulness and to the possibility of new life in the Spirit. The only antidote to the wilderness is to entrust ourselves to the God who entered into human history precisely so the wilderness would bloom once more, not just with the most fragrant of flowers but also with the fruit that we ourselves are called to bear!
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.
Whenever I read Isaiah 11:1-10, I remember a book celebrating a world of peace and harmony that I had bought for my children decades ago, when we visited Old Shakertown, Kentucky. Aptly called
A Peaceable Kingdom,
the beautifully illustrated book was an Abecedarius depicting animals from alligators to zebras; on the cover, a child with a bird perched on his hand, petted a lion which, in turn, was cradling a lamb. A docile ox rested against the lion and, to their left, a rabbit and a cat kept each other company under a table. At the time of our visit to Old Shakertown, neither of my children was in need of a rhyming alphabet aid; however, it is highly likely that heated squabbles in the car inspired this purchase. No doubt I imagined that Shaker influence would lead to a more peaceable car ride home.....
For Christians, Isaiah's vision of the coming of the Messianic King and the dawn of an age of peace and justice points to the birth of Christ -- the "shoot from the stump of Jesse," the "bud" upon whom God's Spirit rests.
All that Isaiah prophesied concerning this Messianic King is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, the perfect
or righteous one who judges with the heart, stands with the poor and afflicted, preaches peace and welcomes the Gentiles. He enters humanity as a disrupter, one whose words, actions and very presence challenge the
at every level. He does indeed "strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth," exposing lies, hypocrisy, and double-dealings. He turns upside-down narrow assumptions about God while critiquing religious practices which have been reduced to legalism. He demands an all-inclusive, unconditional love of God and neighbor, stretching definitions to include the marginalized, the contagious, and even "enemies." He inverts notions of what it means to be blessed, elevating the "have not's" over the "have's,"
peacemakers over warmongers, the grieving over the cold-hearted, the merciful over the ruthless, spiritual seekers over the complacent, the humble over the proud, those who trust in God over those who trust in princes...
John the Baptist points to this disruption when he prophesies that the Holy One will baptize with "the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matt 3:11). While John's baptism with water symbolizes repentance, the new baptism brings the power of the Spirit, burning away all imperfection, all mediocrity, all lukewarm devotion; this Spirit re-creates humanity so that each person can claim Divine sonship/ daughtership, letting go of limiting beliefs, especially fear, and receiving instead the limitless power of God's transforming grace.
Disruption is uncomfortable. It forces us to think differently and change our lifestyles; it necessitates letting go of the "old self" and allowing God to strip us of all that blocks us from living the life of the Spirit. The question our Advent scriptures ask each of us is,
"Are you ready to be disrupted?"