Against the background of this Sunday’s celebration of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul let us recall the ancient maxim that "the Church prays what she believes and believes...
Have you ever asked yourself why it is that the vast majority of us really want and need Christmas Day to be peaceful, free from friction
and all animosities? I have no intention of proposing an answer. Each one must make an effort to posit their own personal response! Whatever the reasons may be they will present a challenge for our Advent preparation, prayer and reflection.
PEACE HAS TO BE PREPARED AND WORKED FOR!
OUR OLD TESTAMENT READING [ISAIAH 11: 1 – 10] confirms the basic desire for a time when it predicts that “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them … no hurt .. in all my holy mountain.”
So we are back with last week’s mountain – the one which has to be climbed. The mountaineer has to be fit and has to practice on the
lower heights before attempting Everest. There exist within each one of us both a lamb and a wolf! No matter the content of your answer to our starting question, it is the lamb we want and need to be that must be on the top of the mountain on Christmas Day. I must practise
NOW on taming the wolf inside me …. and begin to provide space for the lamb to grow. Here it may well be beneficial to recall a part of
Paul’s message from last Sunday … the part of casting off and conducting ourselves becomingly?
So, what is to be – a wolf in lamb’s clothing or a lamb in lamb’s clothing?
(with apologies to Winston Churchill!)
There are two further points which might well be missed in this Isaiah extract – and both could help us in the taming of our wolf. The first is the little phrase which refers to the Lord “striking (us) with the rod of his mouth.” Here we need to recall words from the Letter to the Hebrews which speaks to us about the word of God being a two-edged sword (4:12 ff). A valuable part of our taming the wolf should be an extra effort to allow each Advent Sunday’s scriptures to strike us – they contain a message from the mouth of the Lord. Secondly, the prophet mentions “the breath of his lips slaying the wicked.” Again allow for a little recollection from Genesis where we read that the Lord God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of human beings (2:7). Advent reminds us that we do indeed have the very breath and life of God within in. This is the breath and life which must come into the limelight during the weeks of preparation. Once more it is a question of practising on the lower hills before attempting the real mountain. The wolf can be tamed with the Lord’s breath – but we must breathe it in! His breath comes to us primarily in his Word and, then, in his Sacraments.
As far as the Word is concerned
THIS SUNDAY’S NEW TESTAMENT READING [ROMANS 15: 4 – 9] provides a powerful motive when it says that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction (that) we might have hope.” We have hope because we have faith! We need faith to tell us that we can tame the wolf and so come peacefully to Christmas.
TODAY’S PSALM [72 or 71] focuses on the virtue of justice and provides us with some practical areas self-evaluation regarding our approach and response (not reaction) to “the needy … the poor, and those who are helpless (and) weak.” These lines are being typed on the one day of the month when I enjoy the services of a char. Each month I become conscious of the fact that this good person must see me as enjoying and having so much while I become conscious of her, in comparison, having and enjoying so little. I have spoken about the peace we all strive for on Christmas Day but today I am reminded of the dramatic phrase of another Psalm [85 or 84] which tells me that “justice and peace have embraced.” The New English Bible translation renders this phrase as “justice and peace have joined hands.” I am much drawn to this rendition because it tells me that in breathing the breath of life into our nostrils the Lord God joined hands with me. TO TAME MY WOLF I HAVE TO JOIN HANDS WITH THE LORD.
So now we come to TODAY’S GOSPEL [MATTHEW 3: 1 – 12]. As with our lamb and wolf we also need to accept that there is chaff in our lives. However there is also wheat – and when we do an honest self-evaluation we need to recognise that, most times, there is more wheat than chaff. The chaff represents the wolf, and the wheat the lamb, inside us.
However, “the winnowing fork is in his hand ….” and that fork is the breath of his life which he breathes into us, the breath that comes to us through Word and Sacrament. The winnowing fork separates the wolves from the lambs. We must allow the wolves to be seen. They need to be recognised before they can be tamed ….
otherwise they roam freely in the wilderness.