2nd Sunday of Advent (Fr. Simham)
“Prepare the way, make his path straight, or Your God is coming….,” These words are so common during the season of Advent that we don’t really understand what they really mean. So I thought, today I can reflect with you the context in which these words were uttered and the impact they had on the first audience. That will probably help to understand our season of Advent better.
The first reading is taken from Baruch. Baruch was the secretary of prophet Jeremiah. He lived during the most disastrous times in the history of Israel. That is during the Babylonian exile. You may ask me, Is it not the slavery in Egypt, the most terrible time in the life and history of Israel?’ But I will say ‘No! Babylonian exile was more hurting than the slavery in Egypt.’ In Egypt they were still only a ill-treated race or tribe. They had no nation of their own or the temple of their own. They were still nomads. But by the time of Babylonian exile. They were a great nation, having been ruled by David and Solomon. And they had the magnificent temple built by Solomon and a wonderful city of Jerusalem as the capital, which was the centre of their identity and pride. When the Babylonians came to conquer, they destroyed the city and also they destroyed the temple. And then they took every noble and young men as captives or slaves. The destruction of the Temple and the exile to Babylon represents a tremendous shock to the Jewish people. It may be hard to imagine today what it must have meant back then, because we really have no basis of comparison. Can we say it was like September 11th for Americans and 11/26 for Indians. No! it was more than that.
In those days normative Judaism meant living with the constant presence of God, which was always accessible at the Temple. Temple was the centre of their religious life. Miracles occurred there daily and could be witnessed by anyone. For example, whichever way the wind was blowing, the smoke of the sacrifices always went straight to heaven. With such intense spirituality it was clear that God was with the Jewish people through the temple. Now, when this temple was destroyed, they thought their God was taken away from them or He has abandoned them.
The same thing could be said for the land and their capital city Jerusalem. Form then Jerusalem is the centre of the earth and they believed that all nations will one day will be gathered together to worship the Lord there. It is the Lord’s city. Now all of that is gone. Temple and the city were destroyed and all the priest, royals, rich and learned were taken captives. It was a time great disaster. It was not only a political disaster but also a theological or Spiritual disaster. That God has abandoned them. There was a growing realization that all these things happened because God was angry with them and he had abandoned them. They were ashamed of their sins and were hoping for restoration. This is clearly found in psalms.(Psalms 74, 79, 80, 85) Read psalm 85:
Restore us again, O God our Saviour,
and put away your displeasure toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Please give us life again, that your people may rejoice in you.
Show us, LORD, your love; grant us your salvation.
This was their constant prayer. In this situation Baruch comes with these words of consolation and hope saying ‘Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendour of glory from God forever:… and look to the east.’ What for? ‘See your son reassemble from east and west….God brings them back to you.’ For this ‘flatten the mountains and hills and fill the valleys …so that Israel can walk in safety.’ Surely this would have filled them with joy.
Now Fast forward this to some 500 years later, from Baruch to Luke. Again the historical situation for Israel under Tiberius Caesar as Emporer, Pontius Pilot as the governor, Herod as Tetrach and Annas and Caiaphas as high priests was not good for Israel. Everyone in Israel was waiting eagerly for the Messiah. Someone who can redeem them out of this political and spiritual mess. The different sects in Israel were all waiting for the Messiah. And When the word of God comes through John, “Prepare the way and make his path straight….” What you want us to do?
Can you notice that in both these instances, people were acutely aware of their sinfulness and were disgusted with their state of sin and were waiting, hoping and praying for God to intervene and change their situation. And they were ready to do anything for that. That is what Advent means. True advent for me is this. Becoming aware how far I am away from God and therefore how I have to endure so many things that I don’t deserve. Having had that realization making concrete changes in my life that will suit the Lord to intervene in my life or even take control of my life and history. That will be Christmas.
Fr. Showreelu Simham