God's word on Sunday: Prepare for God by using time wisely

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  • December 9, 2017
2nd Sunday of Advent, Dec. 10 (Year B) Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8
There is a schedule or plan known only to God and then there is the human calendar, but the two are rarely the same. That is where our trouble begins. 

Most of us want immediate — even instantaneous — answers to our difficulties, desires and prayers. The passage of time without apparent results usually erodes the faith and confidence of people, even to the point of disillusionment and skepticism. 

Many of the Israelites taken into Babylonian exile in the mid-6th century BC probably wondered if they were ever going to be free or able to set foot in Jerusalem again. A fair number settled down in Babylon permanently. There was a strong core, however, who never lost hope or faith. 

Even though their exile seemed as if it would never end, they knew that God’s mercy conquers all and that God is defined by faithful love. They used the time in exile wisely. They studied the law of God, asked deep theological questions and wrote much of the Old Testament in its present form. Nearly three generations passed, but finally, the message from God was proclaimed by the prophet — they were going home! 

The prophecy spoke only of comfort, tenderness and compassionate care for God’s people. All obstacles would be removed, and God would be at the vanguard of their return to the land and to Jerusalem. Zion was urged to proclaim God’s majesty and sovereignty from the highest mountain. God would exercise divine kingship not through spectacular deeds of power or violence, but by liberating and restoring a people. 

This passage forms the core of John the Baptist’s ministry in the New Testament. In a replay of this prophecy five centuries after it was written, it was used to describe John’s role — he was to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming. Once again, God’s people were oppressed by foreign power and, once again, God would exercise compassion and mercy. 

This arrived in the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who demonstrated the way of freedom from all forms of oppression. Waiting for God is not just marking time, but doing what needs to be done in the meantime.  

God demonstrates infinite patience, but many people chaff at what they perceive to be an unreasonable delay. God exercises this patience for the benefit of as many as possible. The author of 2 Peter warns us not to lose heart, for God’s time is not ours — God uses a very different timetable and calendar. 

It is important to use the time that we are given wisely and generously, both for ourselves and for others, for it will not last forever. The day will come when all is ended. The world as we know it will be swept away in a flash. 

Given the multi-faceted precariousness of our world at the moment, this is not as far-fetched as we might think. It could take many forms. Patience is waiting on God with a sense of peace and hope, glorifying God in our lives all the while.

Once again, the hills of Judea echoed with the words of Isaiah. John was the one anointed by God to prepare the way for God’s visitation by opening the minds and hearts of the people and raising their spiritual awareness. This is God’s highest calling and one offered to all. 

He was probably not our sort of prophet. John was extreme, uncompromising and severe with himself and others. He did not sugarcoat his message and yet it struck a chord in the hearts of many. Often words of repentance must be directed at those that are most religious, for hearts can grow cold and uncaring, and spiritual understanding easily becomes clouded and murky. 

Repentance in its original form signified a change or renewal of mind and heart, not just a moral reform or ratcheting down of rules and discipline. Probing and honest questions must be asked of self and one must be willing to let go of cherished self-illusions and long-held opinions. 

This practice of self-awareness is not reserved for Advent and Lent — it is at the heart of every vibrant spirituality and is to be lived out daily. The Lord comes often; our preparation should be continual. 

The royal highway for our God runs through the human heart. Let us clear a path for the Lord’s coming.

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