Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
Advent is often described as a time of joyful and hopeful waiting; a time of quiet introspection, contemplation, and preparation. This week’s readings paint a vivid picture of what Advent is about. The first reading portrays a scene of absolute exuberance and joy as the Israelites’ time of waiting is finally over. Baruch reassures the people that God will gather “from the east and the west”, bringing their children back to them; Jerusalem will be revived and restored. They will be returning home in glory. They can cast off their “robe of mourning and misery; and put on the splendor of glory from God forever” (Bar 5:1). When the time comes, God’s glory, mercy and justice will overshadow Israel (ref. Bar 5:8). The same joy and relief is mirrored in the Responsorial Psalm. Singing praise and thanksgiving for the Lord’s deliverance, the Psalmist proclaims, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad indeed” (Ps 126:3). This good news is, once again, announced by John the Baptist, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”, and that, “‘all flesh shall see the salvation of God’”, recalling the powerful words of Prophet Isaiah (Lk 3: 3,6). Advent is not only a time of promises and anticipation, but also a homecoming.
It is widely accepted by scholars that Baruch was composed roughly a few years after the destruction of Jerusalem during the times of the Babylonian Exile (ref. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary 563-4) . The prophet assumes the role of Jerusalem’s comforter at the mourning ceremony, urging Jerusalem to exchange the “robe of mourning” for “the cloak of justice from God”; be proud to clothe herself with “the splendor of glory from God forever” (Bar 5:1-2). In other words, God will take away their shame and restore their pride; Jerusalem will, once again, be a place where peace and justice prevail and she will receive eternal glory of God’s worship (ref. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary 566). During these years of exile when the Israelites were drowning in their sorrows and brokenness, is it even possible for them to dream of peace, joy, justice, and most of all, returning home? Yet, they are told, “Up, Jerusalem!” and rejoice. It is possible, Baruch tells them, because “they are remembered by God” (Bar 5:5). God is eternally merciful and faithful; He will never abandon His chosen ones. Baruch reminds the people that they will continue their journey under the protection and tender loving care of God, “Israel may advance secure in the glory of God” where goodness and abundance “overshadowed Israel at God’s command” (Bar 5:7,8). As God gathers all those who have been scattered from east to west, He is also showing them a way home; the way that leads them back to God. This is as much a journey of geography as one of the heart.
As a pilgrim people, we can certainly relate to the brokenness, longing for home, and hope for salvation of the Israelites in exile. In our brokenness, we may not even recognize the presence of God in our lives; but continue to wander in our own spiritual exile. Though our journey may be long and strenuous, we can rejoice like the Israelites, for we, too, are “remembered by God” (Bar 5:5). Luke reminds us of the lone voice “crying out in the desert”; calling us to remember the goodness of the Lord, and that the only way home is to repent. John the Baptist tells us to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Lk 3:5). Like Dorothy who finds the Wizard of Oz by following the “yellow brick road” , we, too, must follow Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life, so that our “love may increase … be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:9-11).
During the second week of Advent, may we be attuned to the voice crying in the desert of our hearts. Make straight our crooked ways; recognize the blindspots of our lives and fill our spiritual valley with compassion and kindness; level our mountain of pride and self-centeredness; and in the silence of our hearts, heed the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Let us rejoice and return home this Advent!