In harmony with God, life is wonderful

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  • November 28, 2012

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

Who was Baruch and when did he write this book? These are questions for which there are no clear answers and scholars disagree on many points. Baruch was known as the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah in the sixth century B.C. and the book is set in that time period but most would place this work much later, possibly during the Maccabean revolt of the second century B.C. It drew on many different written works and the reader can recognize immediately the call to prepare the way of the Lord in Isaiah 40.

In a sense it doesn’t matter because the issue remained the same in both time periods: Jerusalem was in deep trouble. The message also remained the same: the bad stuff didn’t have to happen — the nation had a choice. Instead of living in fear or continuing in a collective life that was drastically out of harmony with the divine will, they could make a radical, decisive commitment to live in God’s righteousness. Then and only then would the nation be exalted to the heavens and receive a superabundance of God’s graces.

Using a series of striking symbols, the author portrayed Jerusalem in her new state as radiant, glorious, splendid and beautiful. Attached to these attractive labels were a couple of new descriptive names — “righteous peace” and “Godly glory.” The good things that the people of God longed for would not just occur on their own. They would be the consequences of a transformed life. God was going to lead the nation home and they would bask in His protection and glory. Some of this was theological and spiritual “pep talk” for as we know the prophecy did not occur in the manner described. Human beings have great difficulties in getting their collective act together and the people of God were no different. The image still assures us of what is possible when we listen and respond to God’s word and do things God’s way rather than our own.

The people of Philippi were utterly unlike the fractious and unruly Corinthian community. Paul probably wished that he had never set foot in Corinth but in the case of the Philippians, he couldn’t say enough good things about them. They were totally co-operative and responsive to the Gospel, but he knew that they had the capacity for even more. His one prayer for them was that their love would go into overdrive and that they would be gifted with knowledge, insight and wisdom. Love is the way in which these graces are obtained — they cannot be purchased in the marketplace, derived from books or learned in seminars and workshops.

Luke went to great lengths to anchor Jesus firmly in human history. One by one, we learn the names of emperors, kings, governors and high priests but the word of God did not come to them. God spoke to an ascetical holy man who dwelt in the desert — John the Baptist. The world was not right and those who ruled were one of the main sources of injustice and turmoil. Throughout his Gospel, Luke made it very clear that despite their arrogance and power their days were numbered and that God was preparing a thorough housecleaning. Viewing himself in terms of Isaiah 40, John called the people to repentance — a change in heart and mind. The actual words of the passage from Isaiah invite some careful reflection. Human beings love to play God and to undertake all sorts of grand projects “for God” but without really discerning the divine will. Human motivations and interests are often driving the bus.

Claiming to be speaking or acting on God’s behalf is risky business and should be done seldom and with humility and caution. In Isaiah’s passage, it is clear that the marvelous future of the nation was going to be entirely God’s doing. The only human participation in this process was clearing the way and removing obstacles that might hinder or block God’s actions on our behalf — most likely human attitudes and behaviour. When human hearts and minds are in harmony with God and God is more than a mere consultant, the wonderful and miraculous are frequent and even common events.

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