4th December 2022
Reflection (the readings follow on below)
One of the themes of today’s readings is justice. What is justice? What do we mean when we talk about justice? Is it me getting what I want? Me being free to do what I want, when I want and how I want? Is it me being free to exercise ‘my rights’?
This is a lot about ‘me’ but what I what I want to do adversely affects someone else? What if my rights block someone else’s rights?
Might justice be concerned with what I have done wrong, where I have impinged in somebody else’s rights? Might justice be about me being penitent and offering restitution?
The Psalmist tells us that justice goes hand in hand with righteousness. More explicitly, we’re told that to do justice is to defend the needy, to rescue the poor and the oppressed, to restore the fertility of the land and to enable peace to flourish. Nothing there about my rights!
Isaiah tells us that justice comes from the spirit of the Lord, that it encompasses the wisdom and understanding that comes from God – as well as the awe (often translated as fear) of God. The exercise of God’s justice doesn’t just rely on what one sees and hears, but on a deeper understanding of the situation. It is a justice that creates a world of peace, of mutual co-existence, of joy. It creates that renewed world order which in Advent we look forward to.
And for which we prepare. John the Baptist’s cry that we should repent and prepare the way, is not an ideal call. Nor is it a call only to be heard in the past. It is the rallying call for us today, this year of 2022.
We are called to look at the world around us with more than just ears and eyes. To look deeper, to seek to understand the deep issues that causes injustice to damage lives of both people and the natural world. We need to be aware of and able to stand up for those who are oppressed, who are poor, marginalised. Those who have inadequate access to the necessities of life, as well as inadequate access to opportunities of life. We need to be aware of the long and short term harm being caused to the natural environment as well as to the built environment in which we live and work. We need to be aware of where we are at fault, where we have been the cause of the injustices and we need to be willing to make reparations.
We cannot stand back and ignore the plight of the people suffering starvation in East Africa after seasons of drought. We cannot stand back and ignore the plight of Pakistan where a third of its land has been flooded disrupting daily live on a vast scale. We cannot stand back whilst around we cause the 6th mass extinction of life on earth. We cannot stand back and ignore the plight of people in our own country who have insufficient resources to feed their families, to keep warm, to maintain a sense of dignity.
Equally we cannot stand back and ignore the behaviour of those who oppress the poor with their commercial clout. We cannot ignore the behaviour of those who continue to invest in atmospheric polluting oil industries. We cannot ignore the behaviour of those who do not forgive the debts of the poorest nations. We cannot ignore those who behaviour persecutes people because of their race, colour, faith or gender.
Rather we need to be active in repentance and justice, ensuring that our words and actions work to create the kingdom of heaven on earth. And we can. With God’s wisdom and understanding we can review what we buy – do our purchases help or hinder justice? We can review our lifestyle choices – do they help or hinder justice? We can review our opinions, the conversations we share with others – do they help or hinder justice? We can write to our local councillors, our MPs, business leaders, our bank and pension fund providers and ask what they are doing on our behalf to ensure justice. We can join ecological and justice organisations, sign petitions, join demonstrations.
Our prayers and our study of scripture, our engagement with the natural world and with social affairs, will help us to learn and receive God’s wisdom and guidance. This is how we will ‘bear fruit worthy of repentance’.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
1 Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King’s Son;
2 That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;
3 That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.
4 He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
5 He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.
7 In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.
18 Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, *
who alone does wondrous deeds!
19 And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! *
and may all the earth be filled with his glory.
Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;
and again he says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;
and again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptise you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”