The Ongoing Invitation to Conversion

The University of St. Thomas’s Office for Spirituality sponsors seasonal reflections during Advent and Lent.  I authored today’s reflection, based on Isaiah 35.  Here it he reflection I wrote:

Today’s first Mass reading comes from Isaiah, one of the major prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures and one of the great prophets of Advent.

The Book of Isaiah opens with what is a scathing indictment of the people of Israel. In the second verse, we hear the Lord say, “Sons have I raised and reared, but they have disowned me!” And immediately thereafter, God laments: “Ah! sinful nation, people laden with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children! They have forsaken the Lord.”

But in that same opening chapter, God also invites: “Come now, let us set things right…Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow.” Even in the midst of judgment – while cataloging the great sins of the people and the extent to which they have fallen away – is the promise that things do not have to be this way.

Today’s first reading captures something of the promise of better things to come. “The desert and the parched land will exult…. streams will burst forth in the desert…. those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing…sorrow and mourning will flee.”

What strikes me as I pray with Isaiah’s indictment of the people of Israel is that our society is not very different from the society that Isaiah witnessed. A world that in many ways has turned its back on God, replacing God with the idols of rampant individualism and money. A world that rewards promotion of the self to the exclusion of others; that encourages individual pursuits vs. communal goals. A world where we worship much that is not good, much that is not God.

Yet, there is still God’s promise. One preacher summarizes Isaiah’s Advent message like this: “No matter how much the world shatters into pieces, we carry in ourselves a vision of wholeness that we all sense is our true home and that welcomes us. ‘I have called you by name and you are mine.'”

And just as Isaiah called the people to prepare the way of the Lord, we are called to do the same – not only in Advent, but in each day of our lives. Isaiah’s vision of the kingdom requires our active participation. We don’t get to just sit around complacently and wait for the vision to become reality. Instead, we are called to labor with God to make it so. God continues to work through us to prepare for Christ’s reign.

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