FROM A READING FOR DEC. 5, SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
'The land will be as full of knowledge of the Lord as the seas are full of water.' -- Isaiah 11:9


It's one thing to expect a single charismatic individual to come along and usher in an ideal age. It's another thing for each of us to do what's necessary to help create that ideal age.

No one can argue with First-Isaiah's depiction (Isaiah 11:1-10) of the perfect Davidic leader. Active during a period when the Chosen People are continually threatened by their archenemy, the Assyrians, this eighth-century BCE prophet tries to project them into a day and age when total peace reigns.

Everyone will live so harmoniously that "the wolf will be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid....There will be no harm or ruin on all [Yahweh's] holy mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of Yahweh as water covers the sea."

We, like the prophet's audience, can only hope this "sprout from the stump of Jesse" will hit town in our lifetime.

Though both Paul (Romans 15:4-9) and Matthew (3:1-12) also paint a picture of an ideal world, they're convinced the person destined to usher in that era isn't going to bring it about alone. It will only come when we have the courage to live as Jesus of Nazareth did.

Matthew's John the Baptist, for instance, tells his followers that the Messiah they're expecting to transform this world will actually be concerned with judging their attempts to change this world.

"He...will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire....He will clear his threshing floor, and gather his grain into the barn, but the chaff he will burn in unquenchable fire."

On our own?
Jesus' ideal world will be a "do-it-yourself" project. Yet, we imitators of Jesus aren't expected to go it alone. The Baptist assures us that Jesus' Spirit will play an essential role in even the smallest spark His followers ignite.

This seems to be why Paul is so confident the Christian community in Rome can "live in perfect harmony...according to the spirit of Christ Jesus." We can't have peace without creating the unity which brings peace about.

The Apostle provides us with the key to achieve such harmony: "Accept one another as Christ accepted you, for the glory of God."

The earliest Christians had to bridge a huge cultural gap to accept one another: the gulf between Jews and Gentiles. The former, Paul states, are saved through Jesus because of Yahweh's ancient promises; the latter, because of Yahweh's mercy. Yet in order to be authentic imitators of Jesus, each must accept the other as equal.

Gifts of Spirit
I'm amazed those preparing for confirmation are still being taught just the seven gifts of the Spirit found in today's first reading, gifts which the ideal Jewish king is expected to possess: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord (with "piety" added).

The Christian gifts of the Spirit Paul clicks off in I Corinthians 12 can lead to divisions if put into play in an institution-oriented Church. Yet Paul believes such gifts as prophecy, healing, administration and tongues can bring about an ideal world if we fall back on the Spirit's power to unite those who unselfishly exercise such charismas.

One ideal person won't be able to pull off such a feat; it will take all those who share Jesus' vision. How many of us are willing to die enough to ourselves to unite these gifts into the powerful unity Jesus envisions?