This home in Dundee, Wisconsin, U.S. was built by the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition show on ABC television. Royal Broil, Wikimedia Commons

In an uncertain world, God is present

  • November 26, 2015

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

Makeover shows are very popular on TV. The theme is always the same: an ugly, broken-down house is transformed into a beautiful dwelling. A shabbily dressed, poorly groomed individual is transformed into an attractive, even stunning, new person. Baruch prophesied the same sort of makeover for Jerusalem. We don’t know who actually wrote this work, and in fact, it is probably a compilation by several authors. It was attributed to Baruch the secretary of Jeremiah, but it was actually written much later, possibly in the second or first century B.C.

If many of the verses sound familiar, they should, for they are quotations from many prophetic books of the Old Testament. Baruch deals with an age-old theme: the suffering of Israel at the hands of the nations and God’s promised redemption. During the period reflected in this book, Israel was oppressed by the Seleucid Greeks based in Syria. The Jewish nation had never really recovered from the Babylonian exile, and was merely a shadow of its former self. People yearned for the nation to be free, independent and prosperous, enjoying God’s favour once again. Baruch assured them that this could indeed be the case, if they would only be completely loyal and faithful to God. He used symbols of clothing to indicate their impending change in status, as well as joy, light and glory. God would even cause the forests and fragrant trees to shade Israel, as the scattered people were gathered back to their homeland.

Perhaps we should view this passage and others of a similar nature not as literal predictions, but as vivid and forceful doses of hope and cleansing of the sacred imagination. Baruch wanted people to think in a new way. Religious visions can be great motivators and sources of inspiration, both for good and ill. This prophecy reignited a sense of God’s loving and provident care, as well as God’s fidelity to the covenant.

In our own time, we need such vision. Pope Francis has provided many with just such hope, and most people have responded eagerly and joyfully — even those who do not share his religious faith. It is a mystery why some find his hopeful vision of love and mercy so frightening and threatening. In our own words, thoughts and deeds, it is important to live out this vision of hope for the sake of the world. Even in the midst of darkness, uncertainty, fear and chaos, God is very present, and God always has the last word.

Paul recognized that gratitude plays a major part in living out God’s hopeful vision. He was filled with gratitude whenever he remembered the fine community in Philippi and their abundant kindness and love. He also recognized that the world is a work in progress. Christ began the work, and it would not be complete until His return. Paul’s advice was simple but profound: their love should overflow more and more, joining with understanding and insight into God’s ways. This would enable the faithful to navigate the twists and turns of life in this world.

Luke was very careful to anchor John the Baptist and Jesus in world history. No mythology here — we know the names of the emperors, kings, governors and high priests during their lifetimes. It seems that not much had changed except the identity of the nation’s oppressors.

This time it was the Romans, and the yearning of the people for freedom was even stronger. John the Baptist was the prophetic voice, but he still drew on the same prophetic tradition. His proclamation was also the same. If the people desired peace, freedom and prosperity, they had to align their lives, minds and hearts with God. Repentance — a revolution of mind and heart — was in order, so as to prepare the way for God’s coming.

God had something tremendous in store: salvation for all humanity. Two-thousand years have passed, but the drama continues. The world is still often a dark and scary place, perhaps now more than ever. Many people still yearn for peace, freedom and prosperity. The God response is still the same: put aside the ways of fear, violence, greed, hatred and selfishness.

Get your minds and hearts right with God and you will experience the world and life itself in a very different way. The choice, as always, is ours.

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