9 December 2012. 2nd Sunday in Advent
Bar 5:1-9. God will level out a highway to enable the exiles return to their homeland.
Phil 1:3-6, 8-11. Paul calls for unity, perseverance and clear witness to Christ and the Gospel.
Lk 3:1-6. We are urged to prepare a way for God, through sincere repentance.
First Reading: Book of Baruch 5:1-9
The Lord says this:
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name,
“Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.”
Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
look toward the east,
and see your children gathered from west and east
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that God has remembered them.
For they went out from you on foot,
led away by their enemies;
but God will bring them back to you,
carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
For God has ordered that every high mountain
and the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.
The woods and every fragrant tree
have shaded Israel at God’s command.
For God will lead Israel with joy,
in the light of his glory,
with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.
Second Reading: Philippians 1:3-6, 8-11
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
You Still Don’t Know Me?
In Advent the Church brings home to us that during our life on earth our future remains the great unknown, for God’s plans are hidden from us. We are also told that this age will come to an end unexpectedly; and the last few Sundays have been warning us to be prepared, to be on guard, to watch for this coming of the Lord. But when all is said and done, we might well begin to wonder why the words they speak have not yet come to pass.
On one occasion Christ was speaking about the Father, and Philip showed his impatience. “Show us the Father,” he said, “and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus answered, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me. To have seen me is to have seen the Father” (Jn 14:8f). The vision Philip needed was a vision of faith; and we also must have faith. We must “put on the armour of light” (Rom 13:12), as St Paul vividly describes it.
Before judging Philip for his demand to be shown the Father, we should take an honest look at our own attitudes towards God. How often do we appeal to God, as some kind of sovereign magician, to wave his wand and give us an easy life, get rid of all the suffering and the anxiety that we encounter as part of the human condition. Our real preference would be a kind of heaven on earth, to make our present life permanent, to be rid of all that bothers us, and be surrounded with all the creature comforts that appeal to us.
But in Sacred Scripture, God is the Creator who will fashion a new heaven and a new earth, and, in the process, this world, as we know it, will completely disappear. That is not to say, however, that God does not have regard for our worries, that he is some kind of impersonal, remote onlooker. For, in the person of Jesus Christ, God showed how he cares for, and loves each and every one of us. In and through Jesus, God shared in the sorrow of Martha and Mary for their brother Lazarus, he wept over the city of Jerusalem and all its inhabitants, he sacrificed himself on the Cross for all our sakes.
Today God addresses to us the words spoken to his chosen people through the prophet Baruch: “Put aside your garments of sorrow and distress; put on the beauty of the glory of God forever.” We should try and drop the self-seeking attitude which so frequently prompts us to ask, “what is there in all of this for me? What can I gain from this?” How much finer was the prayer of St Francis Xavier, “I love you Lord, not because I hope for heaven thereby, but solely because you are my Lord.” Loving God purely for his own sake will give a new direction to our lives.
Saint Richard of Chichester put thistruly Christian desire in another way, “Lord Jesus, help us to see you more clearly, to love your more dearly, and to follow you more nearly.” Following in the spirit of Christ is what matters. In this season we should give special thanks to God for having loved us, and pray that God fill us with love for all our neighbours, and with a joyful expectancy that, at the end of our life on earth, Christ may take us to be with him in God’s new creation for ever.
Waiting in Hope
We could focus on the second reading from Philippians and allude to the other two, under the general idea that the Christian, waiting in hope for the fulfilment of God’s kingdom, must try to live here and now according to God’s clear guidance. Paul gives us a rich and dense passage on Christian living.
1) A gifted existence (vv. 3-6.) Remind the people of all they have received from God. One aspect of this gift is that they are able to believe in the Lord Jesus, and come to worship with their fellow believers. Millions do not (yet) have this gift of faith.
2) God the merciful and generous Father has begun this good work in us (v. 6): “No one can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me” (John 6:44-47.) And – for those who accept his grace – God will bring this good beginning to perfection gradually until the end of time.
3) Gratitude urges us to accept the gift, by living as God wishes. That is living in love: “that your love for each other may increase more and more” (v. 9.) We must love as Christ loves us (v.8.)
4) Apply this to concrete details, how in practical situations your people can prove their love for God. Can I say I truly love (and show that I love) my own nearest and dearest: wife, children, family, those near to me. This question can be extended to employers and employed; people of other nations and races; those of other religions; those who disagree with me strongly; importunate itinerants and down-and-outs; those who, I believe, have injured me.
5) My love must grow. Christ the Lord gives spiritual growth to those who want it. I must grow too by “improving in knowledge and perception” (v.9.) I need self knowledge to overcome blindness to my weaknesses and failures in love. I need a deep perception of Christ’s values so that I can make them my own. As I pray for and await his power this Advent, I want to use the pwer he already gives, to mould me more towards what I could be, like him.
Then there’s the hopeful passage from Baruch (first reading) with its longing for deliverance from weakness: for “peace through integrity and honour through devotedness” (v.4.) My longing in faith, in the spirit of Advent, is also expressed in the gospel: “every valley will be filled in, every mountain will be laid low” (v.5) when the Lord comes.
Make his Paths Straight
In many ways, John the Baptist is an image of the church. At a later time, John pointed to Jesus, and encouraged his disciples to follow him, and become Jesus’ disciples. (On occasions, unfortunately, the church could be accused of pointing to herself as the source of salvation). During this Advent season, the church concentrates on preparing us to celebrate the coming of Jesus as our Saviour. We must heed that call, and prepare our hearts for this great occasion.
We are called to straighten out our lives. To fill in the valleys, and to level the mountains and hills is about ensuring justice for all of God’s people. In today’s language, we refer to this as providing a level playing field for all, so that everybody has access to the goods of this world. The final words of Isaiah in today’s gospel tells that “And then all people will see the salvation sent to us from our God.” This is the direct result of making straight the ways of the Lord, filling the valleys, levelling the mountains, straightening the curves, and making smooth the rough places. We can all identify these areas in our lives.
The only way I will ever be able to respond to the word of God is to accept that it is a personal word for me. The gospel contains a message for me. I am the one who is asked to turn from my sins, to turn to God, and to prepare the way for him to make his home within my heart. I am the one who is asked to ensure fair play and justice for others, so that I can see the salvation sent from God.
Filling the valleys, levelling the mountains, straightening the crooked road, preparing a pathway for the Lord . this is all part of my preparation for Christmas. This involves decisions, and these decisions come out of the context of the realities of my life. God is always calling on me to respond to him. Responding to him is to become responsible. I have responsibility for my actions, and become willing to face up to the truth. There is a tendency to look for a softer, easier way. Part of the human condition is an inability to understand the human condition. Lucy said to Charlie Browne “Charlie Browne, do you know what’s wrong with you?” “No,” replied Charlie, “tell me.” “What’s wrong with you, Charlie Browne, is that you don’t want to know what’s wrong with you.”
Most churches have a Service of Reconciliation during Advent. In a way, we can think of this as “Confession without the shopping list.” To the older generation, it may appear all too simple, all too easy. This is to misunderstand the thinking behind the Reconcilation Service. Sin has a community dimension. When I do wrong, I offend the community in general, through an individual, or through a group. Because there is a community dimension to my sin, there must be a community dimension to my repentance. That is why the public acknowledgement of our sinfulness, that is part of the Service of Reconciliation, is much more preferable to going into a Confession box and whispering in the dark. In the season where we are told about “peace on earth to those of good-will,” it is important that I harness my good-will, and act on it.