126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
So as to be more available to the Advent graces of these readings,
we might employ our imaginations to picture John the Baptist shouting out
to all, but nobody in particular, about the need to clean up their acts and
get straight as a desert highway. Some stop, others pass quickly by. He intensifies
his preaching and their ignorings of him do likewise.
The Opening Prayer of this celebration leads us to ask that those things
that keep us from receiving Jesus joyfully, be removed. There is the call
to us in today’s liturgy to return, to recover, and to re-friend our identity
There are mountains of resistance and valleys of stumblings which make progress
difficult to seemingly impossible. The comfort for which and with which we
pray is that God has relented and will aid our being repented; God will make
all seem less forbidding and more life-bidding. Jesus’ advent is God’s promise
not to leave us in our self-chosen exiles and abandonment. Our Advent prayer
is to repent from our own selfish welcoming spirit. We love our ways and
new calls and new comings of God can disturb and annoy our expectations.
We hear a joyful personification of all that Jerusalem meant to the Jewish
people of the time of the Prophet Baruch during our First Reading. In the
previous chapter, Jerusalem is pictured as a sad and discouraged mother.
She has seen her sons and daughters go into captivity and could not stop
their sinning. What we hear is the whole fifth chapter proclaiming God’s
pardon and restoration of this royal city and the glory which is from God
and shared with the people.
Nature itself will be dealt with by God and nothing of mountains
or valleys will hinder God from doing a great new work “with his mercy and
justice for company.” There is an explicit personal relationship here which
the people have violated, but God personally is bringing them home to their
mother, Jerusalem. God has given birth to this nation of people; Jerusalem
as mother, gives them God’s nourishment, identity, and care. They have turned
their back on her and as desolate mother she waits. God, through Baruch,
announces that God has again turned a merciful face towards Jerusalem’s children.
John the Baptist takes center stage the next two weeks. In our Sunday liturgies
we will not see or hear Jesus until he is lying in a manger in Bethlehem.
John is Jesus’ advanceman and advertising agent. What we hear now is the
simple statement that the special someone is coming. John is rather forcefully
inviting people to a cleansing baptism as a preparation for the Lord’s great
arrival. His words echo the theme we hear in the First Reading that the God
who made all things will move heaven to earth so that nothing will prevent
the return of God's family.
We are preparing to welcome this “someone” who calls us personally
and collectively to a freedom which in itself sounds wonderful, but is in
fact, frightening. There are no standards for intimacy. No relationship,
worth its name, is predictable. John calls each of us to such a relationship
without providing a “how-to-do-it” manual. When two humans grow close to
each other, their mysteries remain separate. They do get little glimpses
of the other which might lead them to think they have solved the mystery,
broken through the puzzle. Now isn’t that just like us!
In the relationship to which God invites us through the ancient and new covenants,
God remains as much of a mystery to us as we are to ourselves. The “someone”
who comes and for whom we wait these days of Advent and our lives, comes,
not to solve us, but save us. One of the areas of our repentance to which
John calls us and Jesus invites us, is the illusion that we are solveable.
Even more, we are urged to surrender the anger or frustration which come
from expecting “solvation” so that we will not be needing any of that “salvation.”
The next area of repentance is our letting go of the anger and frustration
arising from our not being able to solve the “other” of our more intimate
relations. We would like some standards and predictability in their lives
so that we could help them solve themselves. Friends, spouses, community
members, and even family members, assist God in the on-going creation of
those “others.” We assist the Baptist in announcing in various ways
that there is need for their being saved and that salvation is coming.
One more “mountain” to be leveled by this laboring God, is the simple truth
which is so difficult to admit, but amazingly freeing when we do. It
is that which others see and know in us before we do. We are selfish! There
are sides to this reality of course. We take in air and food selfishly.
After that, it takes discernment. This is indeed one of those mysteries which
when accepted results in our awareness of how unstandardly God loves us and
invites us to the compassionate and unpredictable saving love we offer those
“others.” I would welcome this Advent the gift of being free from the
illusion that I am not selfish and repent from asking others to support my
pretense. I think I prayed about this before and, God willing, I suppose
I will be kneeling in the same posture next Advent. I do believe the Savior
has come with his mystery to embrace mine. Now I have to embrace it the more.
“People of Zion, the Lord will come to save all nations, and
your hearts will exalt to hear his majestic voice.” Is.