Love illuminates the way

  • November 27, 2009
Second Sunday of Advent (Year C) Dec. 6 (Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126; Philippians 1:3-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6)

Clothes make the person — or so goes the old saying. But this very worldly principle is used often in the Scriptures to indicate something much deeper. Clothes in the biblical sense are indicators of one’s psychological and spiritual state — ways of thinking, worldview, values and personal identity.

Paul and his followers use this metaphor extensively to portray the putting off of the old person and the assumption of a new identity and way of life. In a similar manner, Baruch wants the Israelite exiles to put the past behind them. Real redemption and restoration will not be possible as long as they continue to cloak themselves in shame, submission, anger, resentment and self-pity. Off with the garments of sorrow and affliction, commands Baruch, and on with the beauty of the glory from God.

But there is even more: righteousness, peace and Godly glory. Not a bad wardrobe! They are going home to their own land, but their religious imagination must be refreshed with images of a loving and caring God. Words such as joy, mercy, glory and righteousness ensure that the captive nation will be able to shake off the gloom and sense of hopelessness and feel truly blessed and favoured by God. It is very difficult for most people to shed the burden of their sorrow and afflictions. Wounds do not heal easily, and many times we can even grow attached to them. Guilt, shame and a sense of victimhood can sink their roots deeply into the human heart and soul. For the exiles, the message was the joyful news that God had not abandoned them. On the contrary, they were precious in God’s sight. That also applies to us — along with the assurance that God is always ready to help us start anew. But there can be no new life without a new way of thinking.

Paul has much for which to be grateful. The community at Philippi had never caused him any trouble and it was known for its deep spirituality and fidelity. But he adds a few enigmatic words about love overflowing with more and more knowledge and insight. What does love have to do with knowledge? Everything! In his exhortation to the community to continue on the path of spiritual growth, Paul makes it very clear that love will illuminate the way. Love itself is a form of knowing and wisdom and is not the same as human calculation. Making decisions is not a matter of merely weighing pros and cons — however helpful that may be — but of allowing a love-filled heart to gently guide one in the right direction.

There is an interesting contrast in the Gospel passage. On the one hand, the rulers of the Earth — the Romans along with their client kings and priestly retainers — flex their collective muscles and impose their will on the land and people of Judea. But at the same time, one who probably would have evoked ridicule or disgust in the rulers — John the Baptist — begins his ministry of preparation. Following Isaiah 40, John defines himself as the voice crying in the wilderness and his job to prepare the way for the arrival of God. Once again, the people are exhorted not to see themselves as helpless victims even while they suffer under Roman oppression. God is the only master of the Earth and He has other plans for the powers that be.

Even though John’s preaching is rather fiery apocalyptic, there is already a strong sign that the visitation of God will not be the terrifying and destructive event imagined by so many. His insistence that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” is an essential element of Luke’s theology: the universal nature of the salvation of God in Christ. It will mean big changes in how people perceive God. He will no longer be the possession of a few and will not show any partiality or preference. It is a message that we have still not fully integrated into our spiritual consciousness and collective ethic. Many people fear the coming of God but God’s arrival is not nearly as fearful as imagined. But the surprises and challenges that God brings are more disconcerting than most of us have bargained for. The best level highway or valley for our God is an open heart and mind.