THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT – C – December 09, 2018

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Baruch 5:1-9
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 3:1-6

 

Dear Reader,

If possible, read this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word before we being our sharing.

A prophet is one anointed by God to announce to the people a message God wants them to hear.  While foretelling is a part of the prophet’s task, more important is the prophet’s role as the one to encourage the people, to support their faith, and to give them reason to hope. Ultimately the prophet calls the people to conversion, to the restoration of faith, and to take up again their vocation to act as YHWH’s chosen ones.  Often there is nothing to support the prophet’s message, nothing in the people’s situation that would give evidence that the prophet’s proclamation will come to fruition.  Notice also that the prophetic message is for the people as a whole, and not for the individual, other than to support the individual’s response as part of that people.

The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent speak to the church as the people of God of which you and I are members.  They call us all to renewal as we await the fulfillment of the promised kingdom.

Imagine the situation of the Jews during the Babylonian captivity.  Jerusalem lies in ruins.  The Temple is destroyed.  Many of the people had been led off as slaves.  Others had been scattered afar into the Gentile countries.  Some had forsaken YHWH and gone after Baal and taken up pagan practices.  The circumstances are dire.  Nothing indicates that the present conditions will ever change.

Baruch’s prophecy will impact those this Sunday who have experienced something akin to despondency.  Have you known a dark night and found yourself on the brink of despair?  Have you ever entered with compassion another’s sufferings? Isn’t it difficult under those circumstances to hear the hopeful message?  Disasters make it difficult to hope.

Now hear Baruch as he pulls up the people by their lapels and dares them, dares us to take off mourning clothes and put on the finery fir for rejoicing.  That will give evidence that we believe and live in hope.  Stand up in splendor as YHWH’s chosen ones and know that that relationship initiated by YHWH and enfolding in love will never end.

Up, Jerusalem!  Stand upon the heights!  For what purpose?  See your children coming home.  See every obstacle to that restoration removed.  See YHWH leading them out of slavery, just as YHWH did their ancestors when they were led out of Egypt.  YHWH has promised.  YHWH will do this.

Now hear Baruch’s words in your own situation.  For many, difficult times cause estrangement.  Broken relationships can be devastating.  Times of scandal can test the faith of the believer.  That certainly is true in these times as the church is rocked by the scandal of Clergy sexual abuse of children.  The realization of the magnitude of the problem, the numbers of those impoverished, the children starving, those killed in wars, and those burned out of their homes and those killed in the raging forest fires.  

You would not be the first to cry out: Where is God in the midst of all this?  Camus and Sartre wrote of the folly of faith in the shadow of the Holocaust and the Great War.  There is a surge of new writers proclaiming atheism and a godless universe.  Do you feel spiritually alienated?  Have you found it difficult even to think about praying?  Have you, or some of those dear to you given up the practice of faith?  Up, Jerusalem!  Stand upon the heights!  Baruch’s challenge is to believe the promise and hope in its fulfillment.  This all began with YHWH.  YHWH will bring about its completion for us in Christ, the one we recognize as Messiah and Lord.

Sometimes we can forge that we are supposed to live our faith in situ.  Many of the great documents of the Second Vatican Council attest to that.  One is titled: The Church in the Modern World.  God works in the here and now.  Notice how carefully Luke places John the Baptist’s mission in a historical context.  It began in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and those other historical characters were acting on the civic and religious stages.  It was then that the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the desert.

John epitomizes the meaning of Advent.  His vocation is to be a prophet, akin to Baruch, and stir up a flagging faith.  What made John the Baptist so attractive?  Why did people flock to listen to him?  He called people to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He told people it didn’t matter how far they had strayed, or what sins they had committed.  It didn’t matter how deeply they had sunk into despair.  They could turn and return.  God forgives.  Nothing can stand in the way of that forgiveness.  God loves completely and unconditionally, even if they are poor, or prostitutes, or tax collectors, or blind, or lame, or suffering anything else that others could deem to be a punishment for sin coming from God.  Up, Jerusalem!  Stand on the heights!  And so in droves they entered the waters and were renewed.  In spite of all the signs to the contrary, they believed the Kingdom is at hand.

Do you think the challenge of Advent is to take up the mantle and be a prophetic people?  True, we have to respond individually; but our response will be all the more effective if it is in unison with the Assembly.  That is why we are called to be Church and our worship is communal.  We come together as part of the Assembly.  We listen to the Word in unison with the Assembly.  We celebrate Eucharist in the midst of the Assembly.  We share the One Bread and the One Cup in the one meal that transforms us.  We are sent to exercise the Priesthood of the Baptized as the Church in the Modern World, convinced that the Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God.

Paul, believing his death is imminent, writes from prison to the Philippians.  Would it surprise you that he was looking for a response from them that would bolster his own faith as he faced execution?  That is what prophetic stances can do.  Paul loved the Philippians.  He had announced the Good News to them.  They had believed and been baptized by him.  Paul saw them as coworkers with him in the on-going ministry of the Gospel.  From his prison cell, what is Paul urging them and us to do?  Love God.  Love the brothers and sisters in the faith.  Look at the world through the eyes of faith and, following the demands of love, determine what is really important.  And respond to the grace of ever-deeper conversion of life and conformity to Christ, so that God may be praised.

Do you see why the challenge of Advent might be to accept the responsibility to be a prophetic people?  The challenge is to live as if we believe that the Kingdom is at hand.  Love must be at the heart of everything we do.  That love must be practical.  Certainly we must respond to the grace of ongoing conversion in our lives and not be content with anything that is of sin.  Prayerful discerning might be necessary.  Then it is important to discern how as a parish there is a need of conversion of attitudes that divide and alienate.  What can be done as a parish, as Church, to help people find a reason to hope again?  Jesus commanded us to love one another as I have loved you.  That means to love by pouring out self in service.  If there are homeless people, we must shelter them.  (Think of those refugees heading toward the United States seeking refuge and safety.)  If there are naked people, we must clothe them.  If there are hungry people, we must feed them.  If there are sick people and people in prison we must visit them.  It is difficult for people to believe that God loves them unless they experience that love through human exchange.

Advent leads us to Christmas and the celebration of the Incarnation.  God takes on human flesh and becomes one of us in Jesus.  That is important to remember as we think about Paul’s challenge and our response.  When love compels us to embrace the broken and lowly members of society, to welcome the alienated and the shunned, it is Christ we love and serve.  It is his wounds that we bind up, and him that we embrace.

We are reminded of this every time we gather around the Eucharistic Table and hear Jesus invite us to take this all of you and eat it.  This is my body that is given up for you.  This is the chalice of my blood poured out for you.

Now, you do this in my memory.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus 

 

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