Life & Soul Life and Soul

The Word this week

John the Baptist and Four Saints (1510), by Pietro Perugino

The Second Sunday of Advent
Bar 5:1-9; Phil 1:3-6 & 8-11; Lk 3:1-6 (Year C)

Israel’s long history was inextricably intertwined with the desert wilderness that hemmed her southern and eastern boundaries. The long journey from Egyptian enslavement to the freedom of the Promised Land had been spent in the wilderness. Here the people had experienced the insecurity of a restless people with no belonging. In that same wilderness they had come to understand a loving God as their one enduring place of rest.

In subsequent years the eastern wilderness, leading to the Babylonian exile, had come to symbolise the bitterness of disappointed hope. Here they had experienced to the full the alienation and emptiness created by sin.

During the season of Advent we are reminded that, cut off from God, our lives become a wilderness. Faith, hope and love – all that makes us truly human – seem to wither and die. Once acknowledged, this inner wilderness becomes the hope for which we long. Such was the message of the prophet Baruch to a captive people. “Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever. Wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you, since the name God gives you forever will be, ‘Peace through integrity and honour through devotedness.’ ”

The beauty of Baruch’s poetry underlines the change of heart that answers promised hope. It is founded on the integrity that expresses itself in devotion to God and neighbour.

Luke’s Gospel presents John the Baptist as a voice crying out from the wilderness of sin’s alienation. Echoing the words of prophecy, his mission was to prepare a way for the Lord. He invites all to consider the hills and valleys that we have placed between ourselves and the love of God. To the downhearted he makes the promise that God himself shall remove the hills and valleys that hinder the sight of God. “Then all mankind shall see the salvation of God.”

Through baptism our journey is already begun. Through his birth, life, death and Resurrection, Christ is already victorious over all that stands in our way. We should therefore approach the season of Advent with a confident joy. In the words of St Paul to the Philippians, we can be quite certain that one who began this good work in us will see that it is finished when the day of Christ Jesus comes. With the help of God, may Advent enable us to grow into “that perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of the Father”.