By Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH
The word “hippie” came to mind as I began reading the Gospel for the second week of Advent. John the Baptist certainly marched to his own drummer, living in the desert, wearing “odd” clothes, eating “strange” food. People like John are often written off as kooks, nut-jobs, outliers. In spite of his off-putting ways, though, people of his time seemed drawn to him, traveling (on foot, remember: no Greyhounds to tourist meccas) “from Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan.”
His message wasn’t very cheerful, either, nor was he much of a diplomat in presenting his thoughts. Really, if someone invited you to go for a long, rough hike to hear an oddball, sort of angry person scold everybody and warn them of impending punishment, how likely is it that you would have gone?
Maybe the appeal lay in seeing someone blast the religious leaders of that day – aristocrats and legal scholars of their faith, not known for sensitivity to the human condition. Whatever drew people to John (nothing good on TV?) they certainly came and were motivated to be baptized as a sign they would change their ways.
There’s a balance to John’s fire in the first reading. Isaiah is just as intense as John, but more hopeful, perhaps because he foresees justice for the poor, safety even for a baby playing near a snake (which had to be a much greater concern in those days), no harm or ruin anywhere on earth. Who wouldn’t go for that?
In the second reading, we’re encouraged to endure and be hopeful – something we can all get behind these days – expressing our trust and hope by the way we relate to one another – just as Jews and Gentiles were urged to get along, though in Paul’s time that was a wildly radical notion! Is it too wild and radical for us in our time? Do we have enough of Isaiah’s vision to give it a try? Where will you begin?