God's Word on Sunday: On our tough road, God is with us

  • December 8, 2023

Second Sunday of Advent  (Year B) Dec. 10 (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8 )

What would “comfort” and “good tidings” sound like in 2023? To whom would they be directed? To be at all meaningful, the message cannot be only for believers and churchgoers. Although originally given to the people of Israel in Babylonian exile, our own times call for a more universal application.

In a sense, we are all in exile — from the deeper realms of our hearts and souls, from one another, and most of all, from God. The descriptive list is long and grim: the dead, wounded and traumatized on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the war-torn Ukraine, with its many dead, wounded and traumatized; and the many homeless in our cities. It includes refugees and the poor stressfully trying to make ends meet, as well as those struggling with addiction and those affected by them. Those contemplating suicide are especially in need of hope and good news. And finally, included are the many who have allowed ignorance and fear to take hold of their minds and hearts, dividing our societies and setting people against one another.

God is certainly not coming to fix all of these problems — God is not a cosmic repairman. To all of these people, and to many more that are unnamed, the message would be the same. God knows and God cares. God has not forgotten you; God knows your pain. Isaiah uses a number of comforting symbols: God tenderly gathering the sheep in His arms and the voice crying exultantly from the mountaintop, “Here is your God!” But a royal highway must be cleared and filled in so that God can reach us. That highway runs through the minds and hearts of all peoples.

At the beginning of Advent, the readings are about repentance — which means a complete change of mind and heart. And that is exactly what humanity needs. We need to rediscover our common humanity and the divine presence in one another and lay aside selfish and fear-based thinking. God assures us that we need not be afraid. Although the road ahead may be rough, God is with us every step of the way.  

When will all of this happen? People have been asking this question for centuries. The letter of Peter urges patience. God operates on divine rather than human time. A thousand years is nothing to God — the mere blink of an eye. Come it will, and it will be sudden and extremely dramatic. What could be more frightening and awe-inspiring than the heavens being set ablaze and the elements melting with fire? Peter is not trying to frighten people, but to reassure them. His advice: lead lives of holiness and godliness and you will have nothing to worry about. This is one more reason why the road has to be levelled and made straight for the coming of the Lord. We can begin this very day. What would the road look like if it passed through your heart? 

For John the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord meant one thing: rousing people from their spiritual slumber or slackness and lighting a fire in their hearts. The prophecy from Isaiah was his entire mission. When Jesus finally appeared, his role was finished and he exited the stage. John preached with such fervour and passion that he touched many. Crowds came to the Jordan to be baptized by him. This baptism was meant to signal a turning point in the recipient’s life. John was well aware that his ministry was merely the preliminary to something far greater. As holy as he was, he knew that he was nothing compared to the one who was to come after him. That did not bother him in the least, for he was one without an ego or self-seeking attitude. The one for whom he was preparing was going to bestow something far greater than a baptism of water. He was bringing the Holy Spirit — a new era was about to begin.

What does that mean for us? On a far lesser scale, we can continue the mission of John the Baptist. The message is still valid today. Inspiring others and lighting a fire within them is best done by example, encouragement, dialogue and walking with people. That royal highway is still waiting to be built and it awaits the efforts of many.