On this second Sunday of Advent we continue our journey while the COVID pandemic is still with us and a new variant discovered in South Africa has travelled to many parts of Europe. We see that the gap between rich and poor is widening and that vaccine inequality is prolonging the virus.
With such sadness in our world to-day we are consoled by the joy-filled passage from the prophet Baruch in the first reading of this Sunday’s liturgy . The prophet tells Jerusalem to take off her garment of sorrow and affliction. She will see her children restored to her for God will remove all obstacles to facilitate their return.
The letter to the Philippians 1 takes up the joyful tone of the first reading bringing it into our Christian perspective.
In the gospel reading Luke anchors his story in political history (in this case the reality of Roman occupation), naming the ruling leaders of the day. Emperor Tiberias is named along with Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea, the Herodian rulers and the chief priests Annas and Caiaphas, presiders over the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem.
During the reign of these formidable rulers “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness” The word of God comes not to any of these men of power or even to Israel’s religious establishment. It comes not to someone inside the Jerusalem Temple but to a man in the wilderness, on the periphery of society.
Zacarias, at the birth of his son, had foretold: “you child will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you shall go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people through forgiveness of their sins” and so John appears at the beginning of his mission proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Luke cites the prophet Isaiah ‘the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” This call to repentance is made to us to-day as a people, as Church and as individuals in need of God’s mercy.
How do we hear this cry of John in the Church to-day?
How do we welcome the Lord into our communities?
We recognise that the institutional Church is in need of radical reform, and Pope Francis has been taking strong measures to deal with corruption and abuse of power within the walls of the Vatican. This has been a very difficult and painful task for him but Francis is committed to reform.
The people of God who are the grand majority of the Church’s members are called to prepare a way for the Lord and with the help of God’s Spirit to make straight his paths, removing obstacles which stand in the way of being open to the Lord’s coming into our hearts.,
The obstacles may be our selfish ways, our resentment, our pride or our lack of trust. We need above all to acknowledge our own brokenness. Unless we have honestly faced the wilderness of life within ourselves and in the outside world we will never know our need of a Saviour.
Into our wilderness come, Lord Jesus, come.
Siobhán Ní Mhaoilmhichíl OP