Smile and enjoy the attempts to bend your minds and imaginations around images of peace, harmony, relationships, and identity which come to us through the mail, store windows, TV and newspapers. Prepare to experience your being insulted by how easily seduced they think we are, and smile at how vulnerable we really are to these allurements.
We prepare for the Eucharist in the same manner with which we prepare for Jesus’ first coming — with openness, simplicity and truth. We need a Savior and that Savior comes now-and-now-and-now again. The emptiness of our outstretched hand when approaching our reception of the Eucharist is an Advent-Gesture of hope and fulfillment.
During the liturgical year, we do not hear much from the prophet Baruch. As a messenger and poet of God, he has accompanied the Jewish people into exile and captivity. Jerusalem is their City of Identity, but only in memory and prayer.
The Israelites have been confronted with their infidelities and long to return to their homeland and their relationship with the God who brought them out of the first exile in Egypt. What we hear is a new song from the prophet. There is hope and Jerusalem is the center or image of recovery and restoration. The great city, remembered by those now in captivity as beautiful, but in reality reduced to destruction, is pictured with new glorious dressing. This prophetic poem addresses Jerusalem, not only as a city, but more, the people who are to return and be adorned themselves with the glory of God.
There is return to Jerusalem promised and also the return of God’s faithful love for all God’s holy and redeemed people. They have been remembered by God. The way will be made clear as will the mercy and justice of God.
The prophet might have been standing in the sun too long or under the influence of some strange spirit. There he is in the midst of exile and he begins, like a cheerleader to expand what sounds like a dream. In reality it is the Word of God meant to begin the return. The prophet’s words are an advance-advertising alerting the people for the coming of salvation and the rebuilding of the Great City. The question would arise about whether the people will believe in the midst of their shame and gloom.
The main Advent character arrives on stage in today’s Gospel. After quite a lengthy historical setting, Luke presents John as appearing prophetically announcing the coming of “the salvation of God.” He, as did Baruch, speaks of valleys and hills being made level and the windy roads made straight.
John is preaching a baptism of repentance. Baptism itself is a purification ritual and John is inviting people to be purified from the unholy hanging-on-to's in their lives. In his way he is asking the people to check out what they are holding onto for their identities, their securities. In short he is announcing that they will be asked to let go of the old and stale forms of relating with God and prepare for something, a Some One who is coming to be held onto. The familiar is so comforting and the Baptist is proclaiming the latest surprise in a long history of unusual revelations.
Jesus is not on stage yet, but the dramatic tension is rising. The people, and we as well, are called to trust the off-stageness of the Promised One. The people in exile, the people listening to the Baptist, we listening to both, all are called to re-pent or return to our being held by the ever-loving and faithful God.
Our hearts have hands in a way and we easily tend to reshape gifts into little gods and those hands and grasp these gods for life-support. This is a wonderful time of year, of preparing to give gifts and receive as well. The people of Israel were in exile, because they had forgotten the gift of their being God’s holy people and their city a holy place of God’s presence. We need Advent to remember what’s what and what’s not. The “off-stage” voice of the One Who is to come is what will get things straight, will fill in the empty valleys and level our mountains of defensive fear. To allow this, we trust the call, the unusual, the new of Jesus’ coming. We need these Advent moments to check out our little heart-hands and see if there is any room in those hands for our receiving the new Surprise.
“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” Ps. 126
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