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God's Word on Sunday: The power of God’s word never fades

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  • November 28, 2021

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

The beautiful and soaring imagery of many prophecies usually collides with cold, hard reality. The utopian promises rarely seem to materialize, for our spiritual journey takes place on the earthly plane with its own laws and customs.

And yet the prophecies continue to live and give hope generation after generation, century after century. They never wear out.

The passage from Baruch is a case in point. Baruch, possibly the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah, penned this work towards the end of the Babylonian exile in the mid-sixth century B.C. and it contained the usual encouraging news of their impending return to Jerusalem. The description of hills being levelled and valleys filled in sounds familiar, for it is an echo of Chapter 40 of Isaiah.

In turn, John the Baptist identified personally with these words at the beginning of his ministry. Never mind 500 years had elapsed since the words were first uttered. In the divine plan of salvation time means very little. God’s word is always vibrant and new whenever and wherever it is proclaimed, and its power never diminishes.

Baruch used his imagery to encourage the people of Jerusalem to put on a new mindset and self-image. In biblical terms, clothing symbolized one’s mental and spiritual state. The people were struggling with trauma and the effects of degradation and loss of freedom. They were urged to divest themselves of all that was negative and reclothe themselves forever with the beauty of God’s glory. This would be followed by the robe of God’s righteousness and the diadem of God’s everlasting glory. That is quite a makeover!

They were then invited to stand tall and look towards a glorious future. It would certainly not happen immediately, but they would begin living and moving in that direction. It was new life in God and was the cure for the death-dealing negativity that threatened to overwhelm them.

In keeping with the perennial nature of prophecy, it is addressed to us today, and is the way forward from the darkness and negativity that are so prevalent in our experience. As we think, so we shall become.

Paul was filled with gratitude for the immense spiritual progress of the Philippian community. He was confident that Jesus Christ would bring to completion the good work that He had begun in them. The Lord never leaves anything unfinished. Paul’s prayer for them was that their love would overflow more and more, bringing with it insight and knowledge. Love is far more than emotions or feelings. It is an expression of concern and care for others. It unlocks our spiritual faculties and gifts us with wisdom, insight and understanding.

Luke very carefully set the scene. He named emperors, governors and high priests — in other words, the interlocking array of power and authority in Judah. They lived under the illusion that they were in total control and answerable to no one.

These opening lines represent human history, but they are immediately followed by divine history. The word of God came to John, a wild-eyed ascetic living in the wilderness, rather than to any of those in power. Echoing the words of Isaiah, he went about preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins.

What did it mean to “prepare the way of the Lord ... and make His paths straight”? Repentance meant a change of heart and mind, an inner cleansing and transformation. When some asked him what that meant in practical terms, he spoke in terms of compassion, sharing, generosity and behaviour that was decent and just. Why is that so difficult?

John struggled to make them understand why it was so important to make a change of life now, for God’s moment had come. This highway that was being prepared would bring salvation not just for a few or a select group, but for all flesh — all humanity. This phrase would be repeated in Acts 2, after Joel’s prophecy of God pouring out the Spirit on all flesh was fulfilled.

But the renewal of heart and mind, as well as preparing the way of the Lord, is not something done only once. It is something we can do daily — it can and should become a spirituality and way of life.

The events of Scripture occurred not only in the past but replay continually, in a constant journey through human history.

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