Matthew 3:1-12, Second Sunday of Advent
I wonder if some of you have made it to the Caravaggio exhibition here at the National Gallery. There is a painting there, on loan from the National Gallery of Ireland, that has an interesting Jesuit connection. The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio hung for many years in the dining room of the Jesuit community in Dublin since the 1930’s. However, no one knew that that painting that hung there in their own home was a masterpiece. Imagine that! The Jesuits just presumed it to be a copy by one of Caravaggio’s followers; and for good reason, I mean have you seen the [crappy] paintings that usually hang in Jesuit residences? Eventually, the painting was only ‘rediscovered’ when it was sent for restoration work in 2006.
Curious isn’t it, how something so precious can lie in wait, waiting for discovery, while all that time considered to be of not much worth at all.
The opening words of our readings today from Isaiah conveys that sense of the coming to light of something precious, hidden for so long: A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse.
First, let me invite you to reflect for a moment on our Gospel reading, for there we hear that we are invited to prepare, to prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Something significant is about to happen. Someone important is about to come. And so we are invited to pay attention to the landscape of our surroundings, the geography of our hearts. As we inspect that landscape, we might ask ourselves, what is it that makes the paths to our own hearts circuitous? What would it mean to make straight paths for the Lord?
Perhaps you and I are invited to still our wandering thoughts, our meandering speech, our restless hearts. Perhaps we are asked to stop being dishonest with ourselves about what we really want, whom we really need. Instead, we are asked to reveal our enthusiasm, our deep desires that the Lord comes at once, without any delay through unnecessary winding roads, into the core of our being.
Second, we are invited to enact that preparation through perseverance, through not giving up. St Paul says that we are to be reminded, to learn about hope, from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God. I find that to be such a remarkable line. Don’t give up! God has been, is, will be help for you! How important to remember that especially as we have this terrible instinct of wanting to flee from anything that is difficult or that demands hard work.
This invitation to never give up is even more surprising if we consider the lines of scripture preceding our opening line today. There we are told that the thickets of the forest will fall by an axe, … the majestic trees will fall (Is. 10:34). It is against this dramatic statement of deforestation and destruction that we hear that unexpected, gentle germination of life, A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse.
Third, that coming we are preparing for, for which have persevered through calamity, is a presence from within us. Jesus comes to us in the line of Jesse, reminding us that God’s coming to us is not from without. Indeed, Jesus comes to us as a son of Adam, a son of David, a part of our broken history and fractured humanity. Like that masterpiece that lay in wait to be recognised, Jesus comes to us as one like us. We are that unrecognised masterpiece. We are that something precious, for we are created us in the image and likeness of God’s-self. Nothing can destroy that beauty, not even if we are cut down. For that shoot springs within us eternally, transforming our world so that one day enemies sit down with friends on the holy mountain of the Lord.
My dear friends, we are invited to prepare, to persevere and to be conscious of the presence of the Lord within us and in our world. Our task then is clear, we are to help each other recognise the masterpieces that we are amidst all the brokenness in our world.
How will you unveil the unrecognised masterpieces in your lives?