During elections, politicians make promises. They promise to renew the life of a city and increase jobs in a given town or country. They assure us that they alone can give us the prosperity we desire.
On this Second Sunday of Advent, we encounter a different kind of political actor. We hear the well-known passage from Isaiah promising us, “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom” (Is 11:1).
Isaiah promises there will be a king who isn’t about the status quo. This king will be imbued with the spirit of the Lord. This king will put an end to all violence. This king will gather together all the nations of the earth on the holy mountain of God, the great city of Zion. And this dwelling, this city of justice and peace, shall be filled with the presence of the Lord.
The psalmist praises this long-awaited king, hopeful that “in him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed; all the nations shall proclaim his happiness” (Ps 72:17).
John the Baptist serves as the messenger, the final prophet, of this long-awaited king. Notice in the Gospel the large crowds streaming toward John’s baptism of repentance in the desert: “At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him” (Mt 3:5). Among those undergoing this baptism of repentance were the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the religious leaders of Israel. John reacts with what seems like viciousness: “You brood of vipers!” (Mt 3:7). But why viciousness?
Perhaps, the religious leaders of Israel were not interested in drawing in all the nations to worship on the holy mountain. They were content to be sons and daughters of Abraham, letting the rest of the world burn.
But John will have none of it. The time is at hand when the king is coming into the world to baptize not with water but with fire: “He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:12).
John warns the Pharisees and Sadducees: Be the wheat of the kingdom of God, not the chaff of destruction.
These words of John are directed this very day to the Church itself. For the king is present among us, ruling over our city on pilgrimage. The Church is called to “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom 15:7).
We have to ask ourselves whether we’re willing to offer this kind of hospitality. During Advent, we must turn a mirror upon ourselves and wonder whether we’re simply content to be our little parish community, the place where we worship for an hour per week each Sunday. Or, following the King of Peace, whether we’re willing to practice a new kind of politics.
This politics defends those on the margins: the unborn and the immigrant, the poor and the hungry, the migrant and the stranger. It announces to the world that Jesus Christ is the King of Peace, who is about to set the whole thing on fire. Starting with our parish.
It seeks to draw every person into the life of the Church, where we feed upon heavenly wheat and drink from the cup of salvation in the glorious feast of the city of God.
Jesus isn’t like our politicians. He doesn’t just make promises. He makes a city of peace, of generosity, of love itself.
Be that city.
Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.