December 9, 2012
Second Sunday of Advent
Reading 1: Bar 5:1-9
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
R. (3) The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Reading II: Phil 1:4-6, 8-11
Gospel: Lk 3:1-6
The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city's hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child's name and room number and talked briefly with the child's regular class teacher. "We're studying nouns and adverbs in his class now," the regular teacher said, "and I'd be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn't fall too far behind."
The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, "I've been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs." When she left she felt she hadn't accomplished much.
But the next day, a nurse asked her, "What did you do to that boy?" The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. "No, no," said the nurse. "You don't know what I mean. We've been worried about that little boy, he seemed so hopeless, so unable to make any progress. But ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back, responding to treatment. It's as though he's decided to live."
Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?"
Today’s scriptures describe what seemed to be two hopeless situations. In both cases, into such hopelessness comes a messenger of hope: the Prophet Baruch and the Prophet John the Baptist.
First, Baruch: a secretary to the prophet Jeremiah—lived in the most disastrous point in history:
the Babylonian Captivity, the sixth century BC. The Babylonians swept through Israel, killed many, destroyed the temple, took off leaders of the people and imprisoned them in Babylonia. How traumatic was this to the people of Israel? One author suggested: think: the 9-11 attacks times 100. This defeat left them asking: Were they truly the chosen people? Had God abandoned Israel? Yet, now Baruch tells Israel to “take off robe of mourning,” the traditional garb of those who mourn the death of another. Look East—to where the exiles would come—from whence God acts. God was about to act, though things looked dark and completely hopeless.
Second, the Gospel of St. Luke: another prophet telling a similar story: To us, the gospel begins with a list of names largely lost to history. But, to the listener, these names evoked an agonizing history of oppression. Tiberius Caesar-the emperor and a ruthless, violent despot. Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea—likewise violent, even took the Roman standard into the temple—crucified 1000’s of Jews. Herod, tetrarch of Galilee—fearsome, hateful, violent—murdered his own sons, lived a wicked life not incongruent with the massacre of the innocents. So too his brother tetrarchs Phillip and Lysanias. And the religious leaders: Annas, Caiaphas—the high priests: crooked as the temple had become corrupt, through its domination by unethical irreligious families. As in the time of the Prophet Baruch, Luke is mentioning the impotence of the whole political and religious reality.
In the midst of this, surprise, the Word of God was spoken, not to the high and mighty, to the powerful, to the influential, but to John, the simple and somewhat wild prophet in the desert, an outsider in on the ways of God.
John the Baptist’s message: God is about to act. “Make ready the way of the Lord.” The path shall be made straight, the hopeless curves and weavings of history are not about to be broken apart and made straight: the old ways, the current establishment, is about to come apart. John the Baptist speaks the word of the Lord, essentially: “I know that you are being oppressed, I am about to act.”
How are we to prepare for God’s action? In John’s words, through “a baptism of repentance.” What is this? A baptism, and immersion, into “repentance.” The word used for repentence in the orginal Greek: metanoia: ???? ????, going beyond the mind you have. How have our minds are conditioned by the world, by what has gone before us? We can think: Things are never going to change, they are as they have always been. Things are hopeless. John the Baptist says, “It’s time for a new mind, a new set of eyes, a new kind of expectation—wake up!”
But, do things ever get better? In many ways, it seems, No, but hope is ever offered as a remedy. The gift of hope lets us put on a new mind. So, let’s receive the gift of hope, that God is about to act in a new way, and let us literally “go out of our minds,” our old minds, our hopeless ways of thinking.
For every generation, for that of the Prophet Baruch, the Prophet John the Baptist, and that of our own time, there is every reason to be hopeless. To every age, and to our age, comes the perennial message: God is about to act. Like in the story of the little boy in the hospital, we can see, “God would not send a teacher, a Savior, if we were intended to die, if things were hopeless.” Christ, God, sent to us, into the midst of our lives, shows there is hope, for he is hope, and we and our lives are no longer beyond hope.
Look, here he comes again, right at this altar. Let us come and receive Him with joy. Let us take off our robe of mourning and misery and put on the splendor of glory from God forever.