2 Advent A – December 5, 2010 – Your Nose So Bright
Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17, Romans 15:4-9, Matthew 3:1-12
The song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was played in the background during this first paragraph of the homily.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a character created by advertising executive Robert May in 1939. As you well know it is a story about a reindeer who was different. Others laughed at him, called him names and excluded him from their games. Eventually Rudolph was accepted and, with a nose so bright, guided Santa’s sleigh through the Christmas night. This tale of rejection, reconciliation and hope spurs the imagination of every child at this time of year.
The music stopped.
Today’s biblical texts aren’t exactly archetypes for commercial appeal or holiday fables. They do however ring of the same story you and I cannot escape. How do we take the lead in matters that affect our lives and those of others? How do we bring happiness and hope to others? How do we prepare the way to counter wicked, ruthless and harmful enemies? These are the crooked paths that side step the goals that Christmas symbolizes — peace on earth, good will for all.
The readings today switch from the scary thoughts of the end of the world to the birth of Jesus Christ. The first passage from Isaiah is the great prophecy that a savior will come. In defeating adversaries, King David’s dynasty was about as effective as a dead stump. Sentences before the text we heard are helpful (Is. 10: 33-34). The majestic trees of the enemy were hacked down. This is a prelude to the word of promise that follows.  From that withered tree of Jesse, that rotten stump, emerged David and “Justice flourished in his time.” (Psalm 72)
This Isaiah passage sets the stage for what we claim to be the root for our Christian story about the incarnation of the savior God. For us Jesus Christ is the bright light who leads, not Santa’s sleigh, but people out of degradation and hostility to a kin-dom; a time and place where all people live with respect and dignity. What do we have to do to get there?
The gospel starts with John the Baptist’s warning to repent and prepare the way for the mightier One coming after him. Grimy and living on fast food, John was the “stump” man for Jesus as foretold in Isaiah 40:1-5. He was irritated by the skeptics and challenged them to produce good fruit as proof of their repentance or risk being axed. John is a symbolic link to those Old Testament prophets who resisted injustice and embraced a revolutionary model of renewing society.” 
Here is where you and I are called to a corporate understanding of our responsibilities in the world. This undertaking is difficult to grasp because we live in a society based on individualism. However, how long can we blame government for our country’s serious dilemmas if we are not willing to change our lifestyles? What will cynicism and criticism of our religious leaders accomplish if we do not take the lead in our own spiritual lives? No matter what the situation is in our domestic and personal affairs, rich or poor, we can only advance ourselves by being daring and hopeful. That’s how we turn dead stumps into flourishing trees.
This past week was full of reminders of the dead stumps aching to bloom again. World AIDS Day will not let us ignore that dreadful disease. Civic and religious leaders warn that only personal and global responsibility will halt the spread of HIV AIDS. The thirtieth anniversary of the brutal rape and murder of four Catholic women missionaries in El Salvador thirty years ago reminds us that evil people exist all over this planet. Three of the soldiers who carried out the killings were trained at the School of the Americas.  And, this past Friday was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Who among us is not helpless in some way?
Who will take the lead? The second reading from the epistle to the Romans says we are called to welcome one another, to think in harmony with one another, to encourage one another with endurance. This is not an easy mission especially with so much tugging at us, sometimes in different directions. Last week Betsy  spoke about learning to live with the dichotomies; to balance ourselves on icy sidewalks where anxieties and hopes crisscross.
It is unlikely that wolves and lambs will sleep together soon (Is. 11:6). So, where is the hope, the light that shines in the darkness? Christians are not alone in this season of light. During this time of Chanukah Jews light candles to mark the miraculous defeat of an enemy and the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Next week, as Catholics observe the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Buddhists will celebrate the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama. In that tradition the radiance of multicolored lights symbolizes the pathways to enlightenment.
We are preparing to celebrate the birth date of a savior — the illumination of the world! We decorate our homes with Christmas lights even while the flames of our Advent wreaths still flicker. We can’t wait, it seems, to exclaim from the house tops “we’ll keep the lights on for you Christ” until you come in glory. All of these festivals of light point to the hope we have as a global family that, from a dead tree stump, new life can bloom.
Maybe the next time we hear strains of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on the radio, in the malls, we will imagine that we, like the deer Rudolph, with our noses so bright, can lead the way to peace and justice for all.
1 Carr, David. Union Seminary, New York. From notes distributed on today’s passage from Isaiah
2 John J. Pilch. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1995) 4-6.
3 The School of the Americas now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. WHISC is financed by American tax dollars.
4 Betsy Rowe-Manning is the Parish Life Director of St. Vincent de Paul parish, Albany, NY.