Sunday, December 6, 2009

The LORD Has Done Great Things For Us; We Are Filled With Joy!

Second Sunday Of Advent

First Reading         Baruch 5:1-9

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the miter
that displays the glory of the eternal name.

For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.

Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.

Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you
borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.

For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.

The forests and every fragrant kind of tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;
for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company.


Responsorial       Psalm 126

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.

Then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those who sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing.

Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.


Second Reading       Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11

Brothers and sisters:
I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you,
because of your partnership for the gospel
from the first day until now.

I am confident of this,
that the one who began a good work in you
will continue to complete it
until the day of Christ Jesus.
God is my witness,
how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit 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 Tiberius Caesar,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

John went throughout the whole region of 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:

A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.

Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

+++ +++ +++ +++

During the course of the liturgical year, we don’t hear very often from the prophet Baruch. This messenger of God accompanied the people of Israel into exile and captivity in Babylon. The Jerusalem to whom he speaks exists only in the memories of the captives, and in their prayers and hopes for the future.

The Babylonian captivity had moved the prophets, especially Jeremiah, to confront the children of Abraham with their infidelity to the covenant the LORD God had formed with them in Egypt, when he guided Moses and the people through the Arabian Desert to the land of milk and honey, their homeland on the west bank of the Jordan. For nearly half a century, they have been reminded that their exile is the consequence of their infidelity.

But now, we hear a new song, from a younger prophet, one who was born in exile. He sings of hope for the future of his people, of the restoration of Jerusalem as the city of God, of the rebuilding of the temple of Solomon, and the return of the Shekinah – the presence of God within the Holy of Holies.

The promised return to Jerusalem is, at the same time, a pledge of God’s faithful and abiding love for all of his holy people. The way forward will become clear, as will the justice and the mercy of the LORD.

It is easy to imagine that the Jews who hear Baruch’s words might think he has been out in the sun too long, or that he is under the influence of some ungodly spirit – or perhaps from the powders ground from the seeds of the poppies of Babylon. In the midst of the half-century long exile, he begins to wax eloquent about what sounds like a dream – perhaps a pipe dream.

But the truth is, these are not the prophet’s words, but God’s call to gather his people, a summons to begin the preparations for a return to the Land of Israel. The prophet’s words are an advance alert to the people that day of their return from captivity is coming, and the day that the Great City and its Holy Temple will be rebuilt will not be far behind. Whether the people will believe in the midst of their shame and gloom is a question left unanswered for the time being.

In today’s gospel, John, son of Zachary and Elizabeth, kinsman of Mary, mother of Jesus, is standing by the waters of the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance. Baptism is a rite of purification, and John is inviting the people to be cleansed from the impurities in their lives. In his unique way, he invites the people to consider carefully who they are, and what they hold dear, their identities, and their securities. In brief, he is announcing that soon they will be asked to abandon their old and stale forms of relating with God, and to prepare for something – no, for Some One – that will bring a new and closer way of union with our Creator.

Jesus has not yet appeared, but the dramatic tension is rising. The people at the Jordan – and ourselves as well – are called to trust the message that the Promised One is standing in the wings, waiting for his cue to appear on stage. The people in exile, listening to Baruch; the people at the Jordan, listening to the Baptist, and we ourselves, listening to both, are being called to repent and to return to accepting our call from our ever-loving and ever-faithful Father in Heaven. The people in exile, the people listening to the Baptist, we who are listening to both, all are called to repent or, in other words, return to our being held by the ever-loving and faithful God.

This is a wonderful time of year, a time of preparing to give gifts and to receive them as well. The people of Israel were in exile, because they had forgotten the gift of being God’s holy people, and their city a holy place of God’s abiding presence.

We need the Advent season to be reminded of who we are – God’s children – and to look forward for the gift gave us by sending us His Only-Begotten Son – in the manger at Bethlehem, on the Cross of Calvary, and in the Resurrection and Ascension – the pledge of the place being prepared for us in the Father’s House.

The voice of the Prophet opens our ears to hear the voice, still off-stage, of the One who is to come. We need to straighten our paths, to fill in the empty valleys with good deeds, to level the mountains of defensive fear. We need these Advent moments to prepare ourselves for the Yuletide surprise. May these days of Advent be a time for the softening of our hearts, so that we will be prepared to celebrate the Lord Jesus when he comes at Yuletide, and to trust him to guide us on the paths of the year to come, and to greet him when he comes to bring us home.


Sarah in the tent said...

'The way of the Lord'
It's a two-way street by which the exile returns and the Lord comes to his people. It gives a clear line of sight and is the fastest route. Christ called himself 'the way'. Mercy travels down the way of the Lord, we just have to provide the necessary infrastructure at our end, i.e. repentance. Then mercy can complete its journey into our hearts!

What would have happened if no-one had repented at John's call? How could Our Lord have joined them, if they hadn't been there, by the river? None of those simple penitents in the crowd is named, but their repentence is crucial to our salvation.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Sarah, your "two-way street by which the exile returns and the Lord comes to his people" is an apt image of the process of reconciliation: Jesus comes to us, and calls us to repentance; we, who hear His call, are free to block our ears and turn away. Only by our own choice can "mercy complete its journey into our hearts!"

"What would have happened if no one had repented at John's call?"

Sarah, that is a very good question from an inquirer, and I thank you for it.

But in answering it, I am bound to remind you and all of the gentle readers that inquiries of the type: "What would have the outcome been if the situation were different?" can, according to the norms of philosophy only be answered in one way, "If things were different, they wouldn't be the same."

But yours is not merely a philosophical question, but a inquiry about [a] Church History, and [b] Salvation.

The only theologically and historically correct answer to your question is: They were there, and they were instrumental by their presence to the story of our Redemption.

One last comment: The gospels tell us that people walked away from John the Baptist, and people walked away from Jesus. That raises another frequent question: "Were the people who walked away saved?" The answer to that question is: "God continues to offer grace to the unbeliever and to the sinner until the last moment of life. Who accepts? Who rejects? That question will be answered only at the individual judgment at the end of natural life, and at the Last Judgment.