We can open the way to the Kingdom

  • November 22, 2011

Second Sunday of Advent (Year B) Dec. 4 (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8)

Time whizzes by like an express train when we are enjoying ourselves. An enjoyable vacation has scarcely begun before it is time to go back to work. But when we are anticipating something or waiting for something to occur time absolutely creeps by.

Human time and God’s time are very different. We are an impatient people and want everything now or very soon. Human staying power is not the greatest. People become disillusioned or lose heart very quickly and easily. The Israelites had been in exile in Babylon for more than 50 years and it must have seemed like an eternity. Many had almost forgotten home while those born in captivity knew only Babylon. To many of the oldtimers it must have seemed that God had forgotten and abandoned them and that they were doomed to dwell forever in an alien land.

Being abandoned, forgotten and unloved is a primal human fear and the most painful thing we can experience. God’s message through Isaiah was a most welcome and comforting one. Indeed, the passage begins with words of comfort. God is not angry; punishment is past; God has always been with them and will guide them home. It wasn’t going to happen tomorrow, but soon — and all obstacles would be levelled to create a royal road for God. God exhorts the exiles to step out of their fear and pessimism and to proclaim boldly and clearly the presence and majesty of God. Zion is supposed to be the herald of good tidings and the bearer of hope.

In our own time we find ourselves in a similar situation.

The world looks bleak to many and the hold of faith on many hearts has weakened. Hope seems a rather rare commodity as we confront many economic, political, social and religious struggles and uncertainties.

Christians can make a real difference in the world by proclaiming God clearly and joyfully — minus fanaticism, negativity or harshness. And we can proclaim that God truly reigns, far above any earthly power structure. The community to whom 2 Peter was addressed had also lost hope. Jesus had not returned and people were giving up. The author insists on the original revelation of the Lord’s return but hastens to add that a thousand human years is like a day to the Lord — not very encouraging to those who want swift action. We probably don’t share the author’s image of the noisy and catastrophic end of all things. But life is still short and fragile. The author longs for “new heavens and a new Earth, where righteousness is at home.”

So do we. But it will be a long journey and will require much patience, as well as our co-operation and efforts. Service to our world and to humanity form an essential part of our “holiness and godliness” and definitely hasten the process of the world’s redemption.

John the Baptist took the passage from Isaiah to heart and it formed his identity as a prophet. The people were again disheartened and oppressed, this time under the yoke of Roman rule. This loss of independence and the economic oppression that accompanied it had sucked the life out of the nation. John boldly proclaimed that only God was king, not Caesar. God would soon come to set the nation and the world right. As John opened the minds and hearts to the reality of God’s reign, he encouraged them to have a change of mind and heart — repentance — and to be baptized as an outward sign of their inner conversion. His entire life was a renunciation of personal recognition and a continual witness to someone else. He both lived in the shadow of Jesus and gloried in His light. But preparing the way of the Lord and making His paths straight is a daunting task but one to which all of us are called.

We do not build God’s Kingdom or reign — only God can do that. But we can help to open the way. This means preparing hearts and minds to embrace the coming of God even if this occurs in disconcerting or unexpected ways. We accomplish this especially when we plant seeds of hope, a desire for a just and peaceful world and a willingness to leave behind the baggage of narrow minds and unhelpful ideas.