“Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God forever, wrap the cloak of integrity around you, since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven.” The Prophet Baruch’s oracle of salvation embraced the sorrow and distress of a people burdened with the consequences of past infidelity.
Over many generations the people of Jerusalem had lost all sense of God’s presence among them. Israel had indeed been called as God’s chosen people, but, despite repeated calls to fidelity, had given her heart to the pursuit of material wealth and prestige. The more Jerusalem gave herself to the pursuit of power and wealth, the more insensitive she became to the love of God and neighbour. Without any conscious realisation, Jerusalem had placed herself in a spiritual wilderness, distancing herself from God’s saving presence.
Only when Jerusalem lay in ruins did the children of Israel realise where their selfishness had led them. They had become exiles in a foreign land, far removed from the love of God so easily forgotten in the years of plenty. The mountains and valleys that blocked their return were as nothing compared with the self-inflicted wounds of their disloyal past. The superficial self-assurance of the past history gave way to the darkness that acknowledged its own sinfulness, but could find no way back.
Only when Israel had acknowledged what she had become was she ready to hear the promise of the Prophet Baruch. Only when we allow the Spirit to reveal the superficiality and unacknowledged sinfulness of our lives are we ready to begin the journey of Advent. Busy lives get even busier at this time of the year. There is every excuse to hide from what we have become and to exhaust ourselves in the many social and family demands crowding the festive season. The only time that truly matters in the days ahead is that given to trusting prayer, allowing the Father to reveal in us the emptiness masked by busy lives. Then our hearts will be filled with longing: a longing that leads us to Christ.
St Luke introduces John the Baptist as a voice crying in the wilderness. Following Luke’s typical style, the appearance of the Baptist is given a precise timescale: it was during the reign of Tiberius when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea. The Father chose the time when he would reveal his Son through John the Baptist. Advent is no less a graced season, the time when the Father challenges complex lives to prepare a way for the Lord.
If we are to hear that voice we must choose, as did the crowds that flocked to the Baptist, to hush the superficial clamour of daily life. John and his promise of salvation were not to be found in the market places of Judea, but in the wilderness. “A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Our lives are frequently lived with unspoken resignation: a sense that we are what we are, and that there is little that we can do to change ourselves. John the Baptist challenged that assumption. It is God himself who straightens our winding ways, who lays low the mountains that we have made for ourselves.
It is the Spirit who opens our eyes to see the salvation of our God. It is Christ, revealed in our wilderness, who smoothes the way to the Father.