First Reading: Baruch 5:1-9 Second Reading: Philippians: 1:4-6, 8-11 Gospel Reading: Luke 3:1-6
We are in the Holy Season of Advent and today is the second Sunday. Advent is actually a time of hope and spiritual preparation. It is also a time to be ready for our journey towards heaven, our true home, our final destination. The Gospel Reading of today presents St. John the Baptist as our model for Advent preparation; he is the precursor who announced the Lord’s coming and who prepared the people by preaching them the ‘baptism of repentance.’ Not to say he himself was fully prepared for his special mission. In today’s Gospel we note Luke’s attention to political and historical detail. Luke shows that salvation is for all people and situated in world events. Therefore, Luke lists the political and religious leaders at the time of John’s appearance in the desert. Salvation is understood as God’s breaking into this political and social history. The Baptiser – remembered as a man of the desert – is presented as inaugurating a new Exodus for God’s people, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah; A change from the worldly to the spiritual.
In the First Reading of today from the Book of Baruch, we hear the prophet giving a message of hope to the suffering Israelite people in exile. In the midst of their mourning, he is able to say to the grieving city of God that God has not abandoned her or her children. Jerusalem is not to be cast down in mourning but to witness to the power and radiance of God. These are words of power and speak as much to our day as to the Israelite people in exile in Babylon. In some senses, we too are in exile on earth – our final home is heaven. Advent is a time to set our sights on the day when the Lord comes to take us to the eternal city – Heavenly Jerusalem, our eternal destiny.
In his letter to the Christians at Philippi, Paul makes two things clear. The first is his great love and affection for the Philippians, who have helped him in his ministry. The second is his hope that they will continue to become more and more like Christ. Paul is looking forward to the second coming of Christ. And he wants to make sure that all Christ’s followers will be ready to receive him when he comes. Advent is simply a time to be ready.
Prepare the way of the Lord” is a common usage during the Advent season. It is an invitation to get ready to welcome the Lord. In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke, St. John the Baptist tells how this is to be done by echoing the First Reading from the prophet Baruch – valleys are to be filled in, mountains and hills laid low, winding ways straightened and rough roads made smooth. The paths in our lives are full of roadblocks – valleys, hills and crooked curves that block the path of our relationship with God. They are similes. What do they represent?
Valleys to be filled are sins that create a hollow or lacuna in the life of the Christian. They point to broken relationships, lying, gossip, and lack of prayer that eat up from within and leave the believer very empty & weak and create a gulf between the believer and God.
Mountains and hills to be made low refer to the egoistic and selfish ambitious tendencies which do not give place to God, viz. sins of pride, arrogance, fighting, anger, lack of forgiveness, hatred and the like that make the path to relationship with God and humanity very hilly and difficult.
Winding roads and rough ways are the sins that disfigure the Christian personality. They point to the sins of double standard living, drunkenness, drug addiction, stealing, cheating and unfaithfulness in marriage. These and the like do not only lead to crooked personality but at the same time tarnish the dignity of those involved.
John is seen as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah in which there is a call to remove every obstacle that might stand in the way of God showing his salvation to his people. This gospel reminds us of one of the key themes of Advent: repentance. The readings of today show the true meaning of repentance, for they speak about leaving aside anything that might blind us to what God wants for us, and opening ourselves to something new and wonderful and beyond our wildest dreams: God coining in the person of his Son. We would look on ourselves and regret what we should regret – our sins, our meanness, our minor faults and failings, our injustices and hurt of others. In his time the people would immerse themselves in the river and be forgiven. We can immerse ourselves in the healing and forgiving love of God in many ways, including the sacrament of reconciliation (penance, confession). We can immerse ourselves in the mood of waiting for Christmas, and take this on the spiritual level and well as the ordinary.
Once a certain village king was called to make a journey to another kingdom. The journey required traveling through a vast forest, so he requested several of his subjects to accompany him. He put one of them in charge preparing everyone for the trip, and soon they were on their way.
As the sojourners were making their way through the forest, they suddenly encountered a tiger. The king requested a gun from the subject he put in charge. His subject told him that he hadn’t thought to bring a gun. The king became very enraged and told him – “You are such a fool! How could you have forgotten to prepare for any such possibility on our journey?” Then handing him over a stick he said, “Here – take this stick and lead us on to our destination. And then carry it always with you until you find someone who is a bigger fool than you, and then you can pass it on to him.”
The subject went on to keep the stick the king gave him for many years. As the time passed the king became old and ill. The end of his life neared and so he began receiving visits from his subjects at his bedside. One day, the man whom he had rewarded with the stick for being ‘such a fool’ arrived to see the king. He was still carrying the stick. He came to the king and said to him – “Your Majesty, if you allow me, may I ask you a question?” And after permission was granted, he gently asked the king – “My Lord, have you prepared well for this important journey you are about to take?” The king looked at him with surprise and then he said – “Prepared for this journey? I’m ill and near death. How would I have prepared for such a journey?” “Then,” said the subject, gently handing him the stick, “you have this stick and keep it with you.” And then he walked away quietly
All of the weeks of Advent can be a preparation for the way of the Lord, which we will hear of during the readings of the coming year. This is a time of joyful waiting, knowing we cannot be let down. John’s preaching of the coming of the Lord is a key theme of the Advent season. As John’s message prepared the way for Jesus, we too are called to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming. We respond to John’s message by repentance and reform of our lives. We are also called to be prophets of Christ, who announce by our lives the coming of the Lord, as John did.