An image of Baruch from Gustave Doré's illustrations for La Grande Bible de Tours. Wikimedia Commons

God's Word on Sunday: God’s hand is evident everywhere

  • December 8, 2018

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

Trauma can be a wound that never heals. The effects of violence, oppression, physical or sexual abuse, and horrifying experiences can etch deeply into minds and souls and endure for generations. Positive and comforting images are often helpful in the healing process, for they aid people in seeing themselves in a new light and leaving behind the wounded and damaged self-image. 

Baruch was written in the sixth century BC, around the time of the end of the Babylonian exile. Two generations had been born in exile and Judea seemed a distant and dim memory. They were a defeated and uprooted people. Using the imagery and language of Isaiah, Baruch painted a new image of hope for them. His prophetic poem is filled with words such as joy, splendour, righteous peace and godly glory. In a kind of psychological and spiritual make-over, Jerusalem is invited to put on the robe of righteousness and don the diadem of the glory of the everlasting. There is a ringing command for Jerusalem to arise and stand tall. She will see exiles streaming home from every direction, carried by God in glory. Mountains will be laid low and valleys filled in to speed the process of return. Israel will be led by God and will bask in God’s light and glory, enlivened by the mercy and righteousness that only God can bestow. 

Recited, chanted, sung and meditated upon, these positive and inspiring images refreshed and healed sacred imaginations of both individuals and the community. They were no longer to think of themselves as a defeated and captive people, but to stand tall as the beloved people of God. 

We face many traumatic situations today — a hostile, polarized world that is rife with insecurity and fear and many blows to our collective self-esteem. For the Church, the trauma of scandal and betrayal has wounded and corroded our trust and fundamental sense of who we are. However, we need not be defined by this trauma. By focusing on how we are gifted, guided and surrounded by the majesty, glory, holiness and mercy of God, we can begin to regain a sense of our identity as the people of God. Human failings can never take these gifts from us; God is always with us and for us. Let us feel joy and gratitude even amid pain and struggle.

Paul has something that will help us in this — he urged his community to set no limits to their love. It should overflow, and it should endow the faithful with insight and the ability to live a blameless and holy life. The community in Philippi was not an institution, but a family of individuals united in the faith and committed to god-like loving. This is what made Paul pray with joy and gratitude whenever he thought of them. We too can experience this, but it will not come from above — it must come from each one of us.

Luke is very careful to anchor John the Baptist and Jesus firmly in history. This story was not some timeless mythology. We know when these events occurred and all the players at the very start of this narrative. The list of rulers, governors and priests represents human history, created by human decisions and actions. God’s history slips in quietly behind this human history. It operates through, around and sometimes in opposition to human actions. 

The word of God came to a rather insignificant individual, thought to be mad by some, who was living in the wilderness. With his opening proclamation, history began to change. John breathed new life into an ancient prophecy from both Isaiah and Baruch. The familiar images and phrases would have made hearts beat faster. God’s hand was beginning to stir human history once again, and John’s role was to prepare the way for the salvation of God that was on the horizon. Nothing would hinder God’s plan; the familiar assurances of valleys being filled in and mountains levelled made that very clear. 

God is always up to something in the world. The remote and unmoved God of the philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Jesus. If we listen and look with the eyes and ears of the heart, we will see God’s hand everywhere, even in the very strange and scary world we live in today.

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