2nd Sunday of Advent (Year C)
First Reading: Baruch 5:1-9 Second Reading: Philippians: 1:4-6, 8-11 Gospel Reading: Luke 3:1-6
“ALL FLESH SHALL SEE THE SALVATION OF THE LORD!”
Once a certain village king was called to make a journey to another kingdom. The journey required traveling through a vast forest, so he requested several of his subjects to accompany him. He put one of them in charge preparing everyone for the trip, and soon they were on their way.
As the sojourners were making their way through the forest, they suddenly encountered a tiger. The king requested a gun from the subject he put in charge. His subject told him that he hadn't thought to bring a gun. The king became very enraged and told him - “You are such a fool! How could you have forgotten to prepare for any such possibility on our journey?” Then handing him over a stick he said, “Here – take this stick and lead us on to our destination. And then carry it always with you until you find someone who is a bigger fool than you, and then you can pass it on to him.”
The subject went on to keep the stick the king gave him for many years. As the time passed the king became old and ill. The end of his life neared and so he began receiving visits from his subjects at his bedside. One day, the man whom he had rewarded with the stick for being 'such a fool' arrived to see the king. He was still carrying the stick. He came to the king and said to him - “Your Majesty, if you allow me, may I ask you a question?” And after permission was granted, he gently asked the king - “My Lord, have you prepared well for this important journey you are about to take?” The king looked at him with surprise and then he said - “Prepared for this journey? I'm ill and near death. How would I have prepared for such a journey?” “Then,” said the subject, gently handing him the stick, “you have this stick and keep it with you.” And then he walked away quietly.
We are in the Holy Season of Advent and today is the second Sunday. Advent is actually a time of hope and also a time for spiritual preparation for the coming of Our Lord not only at Christmas, which we celebrate every year, but also for His second & final coming at the end of times. Let us then be prepared while journeying towards heaven, our true home, our final destination. The Gospel Reading of today presents St. John the Baptist as our model for Advent preparation; he is the precursor who announced the Lord's coming and who prepared the people by preaching them the 'baptism of repentance.' Not to say he himself was fully prepared for his special mission.
In the First Reading of today from the Book of Baruch, we hear the prophet giving a message of hope to the suffering Israelite people in exile. In the midst of their mourning, he is able to say to the grieving city of God that God has not abandoned her or her children. Jerusalem is not to be cast down in mourning but to witness to the power and radiance of God. She is to clothe herself in the glory of God and proclaim that God is with her for ever. Her children may be marched away from her by their enemies - but God will bring them back: the same enemies who forced the route-march will now carry her children home. Their return will be an extremely joyful event and their journey will be even easier – “For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God. The forests and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God's command.” In this beautiful vision of the future, the people have “God¹s mercy and justice for company.”
These are not trite words, offering comfort but lacking real substance. These are words of power and speak as much to our day as to the Israelite people in exile in Babylon. In some senses, we too are in exile on earth - our final home is heaven. Advent is a time to set our sights on the day when the Lord comes to take us to the eternal city – Heavenly Jerusalem, our eternal destiny. "All flesh shall see the salvation of the Lord!"
In the Second reading of today, in his letter to the Christians at Philippi, Paul makes two things clear. The first is his great love and affection for the Philippians, who have helped him in his ministry. The second is his hope that they will continue to become more and more like Christ. Paul is looking forward to the second coming of Christ. And he wants to make sure that all Christ's followers will be ready to receive him when he comes and he prays for them saying: “May your love grow richer and richer yet, in the fullness of its knowledge and the depth of its perception, so that you may learn to prize what is of value; may nothing cloud your conscience or hinder your progress till the day when Christ comes” - “All flesh shall see the salvation of the Lord!”
Now, “Prepare the way of the Lord” is a common usage during the Advent season. It is an invitation to get ready to welcome the Lord. In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke, St. John the Baptist tells how this is to be done by echoing the First Reading from the prophet Baruch - valleys are to be filled in, mountains and hills laid low, winding ways straightened and rough roads made smooth. The paths in our lives are full of roadblocks - valleys, hills and crooked curves that block the path of our relationship with God. They are similes. What do they represent?
Valleys to be filled are sins that create a hollow or lacuna in the life of the Christian. They point to broken relationships, lying, gossip, and lack of prayer that eat up from within and leave the believer very empty & weak and create a gulf between the believer and God.
Mountains and hills to be made low refer to the egoistic and selfish ambitious tendencies which do not give place to God, viz. sins of pride, arrogance, fighting, anger, lack of forgiveness, hatred and the like that make the path to relationship with God and humanity very hilly and difficult.
Winding roads and rough ways are the sins that disfigure the Christian personality. They point to the sins of double standard living, drunkenness, drug addiction, stealing, cheating and unfaithfulness in marriage. These and the like do not only lead to crooked personality but at the same time tarnish the dignity of those involved.
So, John the Baptist preached 'the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.' He appeared in the wilderness to give the wake up call. He was a blazing personality and proclaimed to all who came to listen to him near the River Jordan how much they needed to repent to be able to experience salvation. With the baptism of repentance, he opened their eyes to see the Lord who had come to save them and give them hope. So, the focal point of today’s message is this: If we can but yield to this call to repentance and conversion, then - “All flesh shall see the salvation of the Lord!”
To conclude: The story is told about a young monk who approached an experienced desert Father. He expressed his frustration, "I feel so restricted. I am stagnating like a pond or a puddle." The elderly monk responded, "Then do not be a pond. Be a bay."
A bay of course is joined with the immense ocean. Each day it has a fresh exchange of water. It rarely stagnates. St. John the Baptist was like that. He was in an extremely lonely spot - the Judean desert. But desert is a place where one encounters God. Also, he did not stagnate, for he always connected himself with the great ocean, viz. God's mercy.
So, during this Holy Period of Advent when we prepare ourselves for the coming of Our Lord, what should our response be? There can be two responses on our part: Firstly, we need once more to hear the challenging call of John the Baptist to baptism of repentance & forgiveness, and connect ourselves to the ocean of God's mercy; And secondly, we have to realize that our own role is not unlike that of John the Baptist - like him, each one of us has a mission to communicate the message of hope, love, freedom and peace to others, so that - “ALL FLESH SHALL SEE THE SALVATION OF THE LORD!”