It is interesting to note that some of the images used during the Advent liturgies center around the exile and the post-exilic times. The highway through the desert served as an image of freedom for the exiled people in Babylon. It held a vision of a smooth return to the homeland along the highway of God.
The poetic images of today’s first reading are drawn from the post-exilic dream. We don’t have to imagine what it was like for the Israelites returning from exile. Right in our living rooms we hear the stories and see the destruction that comes about through political upheavals, the ensuing battles and wars as one regime tries to replace another. We see the plight of the people caught in the violence and their flight into exile. We know the destruction of natural disasters, and the numbers left homeless in the wake of such events. We also know the dream in the heart of the exiled people, the dream to return home to their city, their town, their village.
But what does the exile find? Jerusalem was rubble and devastation. Tohoku lay in ruins, Port au Prince lay in ruins, Mosul lies in ruins, New Orleans lay in ruins, so much of Somalia is in ruins. It is sad to say the list is endless. When the exiles with hearts of hope are able to return, they find the rubble and the devastation. But worse than that, they are greeted by the predators of greed and power. Such was the return from the Babylonian exile.
Slavery is officially abolished, but millions of people are exiled in slavery in our world today, their lives and spirits reduced to rubble. Laws ended apartheid, but there is no home of hope to return to for the millions abused by the system. Equal rights acts have been passed, but people remain exiled in poverty and the injustices of racial discrimination.
The poet in today’s first reading recognized the situation. Those returning home are wounded, and vulnerable to the predator. Into this situation comes one anointed by the Spirit of God to bring good news to the poor, release to the captive, sight to the blind. Those who construct the new Jerusalem must come anointed by the Spirit of God. For only then will it be ‘clothed with a robe of salvation, and wrapped in a mantle of justice’.
We are still in the construction work, building up the city of God. We are called to be workers led by the Spirit of God to bring the good news to the returning exile, to be a voice for those exiled by the sins of injustice in our church and society, and to ensure that their return is to a home of safety, love, respect and equality. May the city we are building be ‘clothed with a robe of salvation, and wrapped in a mantle of justice’.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP