Updated: Dec 5, 2021
The prophet Baruch is encouraging the Israelites who were enslaved, then wandering in the desert. The Israelites had been away from their homeland, in diaspora, for many years. In that first reading, the prophet announces joy and reminds them of their glorious destiny as children of the one true God. The language Baruch uses is highly exalted, at the same time emphatic as he speaks to the people, “Take off your robe of mourning and misery, put on the splendor of glory from God forever.” Jerusalem is returning from the Babylonian exile and is suffering. The people are grieving and mourning. They are wearing a garment of grief but the prophet tells them of a new garment, that is the splendor of glory and the cloak of justice, the miter or turban signifying their priestly royalty. Above all, Israel is given a new name, “the peace of justice and the glory of God’s worship.” Long suffering can make people downcast and wonder if God will ever change their circumstances. Baruch’s message is an invitation to change such an attitude.
John the Baptist appears in the gospel with the great announcement. But John’s arrival on the scene is depicted by the gospel’s referencing of political heavyweights -Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod and his brother Philip, Lysanias, Annas, and Caiaphas. We see the images of worldly power vs. the real power of the universe. God’s splendor appears on the scene with John the Baptist and marks the turning point for the Israelites. The light of the world has entered the scene and the world will never be the same again. Therefore, the content of John’s message is clear, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Place yourself within this scene. The people would have quickly recognized John’s words from the prophecy of Isaiah. They knew the weight of what he was claiming. John was telling them that the great time of fulfillment that they were all waiting for was at hand, and urging them to make straight his paths. The people knew that when a king or a great ruler was entering, the slaves would go ahead of the king and make straight the path. Can you imagine this scene? The Lord was at the gates. We know from the other gospel passages that John points at Jesus and exclaims, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The people understood what the lamb of God signified in the temple as well. There must have been excitement, awe, and majesty of this scene as God himself, the long-awaited savior, stood in their midst. That is the splendor of glory announced by the prophets of old.
But the devil tried to use the political leaders to bring about the physical death of the Messiah. Think about John the Baptist with no human connection yet preaching courageously among these big men. Where are these people today -the great Tiberius Caesar or Pontius Pilate or Caiaphas? The very hole of destruction that the devil dug for Jesus, he fell into himself. The devil used these political leaders to do his bidding but they all fell into their own pit. No one can overcome God.
John’s message sets the tone for advent. John proclaims a time of hope and calls for preparation. How can we prepare for this great coming, to herald the King of the universe in our lives? How do we make straight his path? The times we are living in today are difficult but actually glorious. Certain rulers in the world act like Caesar and Pilate who want total control of our lives and are doing many evil things. We can look around and perceive the activities of these rulers -in the US, in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America. They are everywhere. The culture of death is about the destruction of life, the stifling of liberty, and the pursuit of power. We see rulers who want to enthrone one world order and religion, devoid of Jesus Christ. Like in the days of John the Baptist, a small number of elitists hold great power.
So, what can we do? Sometimes we can just feel helpless. And hopeless. Consider for a moment flying in an airplane. For those who fly, you know that when the plane enters a cloud, it becomes dark and misty. You can’t see anything outside the windows except a gray, lifeless mist. Turbulence shakes the plane and makes the ride scary. But as soon as the plane soars up and breaks through the clouds, it’s sunny above, quiet and peaceful. No one is afraid anymore. You know how it looks with the clouds below, open skies above, and the sun shining. The plane ride becomes as smooth as glass. Right now, the world seems to be in the cloud. It seems turbulent and scary. We must keep our eyes looking on God and remember, He always wins.
On the contrary, the devil makes a big show and a lot of noise. He’s very loud and wants everyone to think he’s in control. God is quiet, composed, and stealthy. Jesus, the warrior king, made his entry into the world quietly in Bethlehem, just like a baby. He overcame the world and death in the silence of the grave. He is very active today too. The evil leaders of today will fall into the same pit that the leaders 2000 years ago did. There have been many evil leaders throughout the history of the world and all of them have been relegated to the pages of history. They always fail. Atilla the Hun, Henry the VIII, the French Revolution, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin. Those from Africa can remember the likes of Mobutu Sese Sekou, Idi Amin of Uganda, Ghaddafi, Sani Abacha. The list goes on and on. They thrived momentarily but never succeeded. It’s impossible because God is in control. The Lord is at the gates and will bring about the victory. Like the Israelites, we must take off our cloak of mourning and put on the splendor of glory from God. Long suffering can make us wonder if he will ever step in and help us. We must exude hope because He will. He will never forsake us. Note that everything ends in his glory.
How do we make straight his paths? By keeping our eyes on him and having total trust. Do not become sleepy or side-tracked. Do not focus on the sinning and bad example going on by others around you. Focus on Christ, pray and remain close to Him. Stay in the state of grace. And if you sin, please, rise up and go to confession. Don’t let the devil beat you down into thinking you’re the worst person. That’s his tactic. Rise up and walk, do not grieve. The Advent season looks forward to the final coming of Christ while it also remembers the first coming. He will always come to our rescue. This is why Advent is the time of hope.
Here's our scripture passage for the week:
1 The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure. 2 Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.
3 The seas have lifted up, Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. 4 Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea— the Lord on high is mighty.
5 Your statutes, Lord, stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days.
Readings: 1st- Bar. 5:1-9; 2nd- Phil. 1:4-6, 8-11; Gospel- Lk. 3:1-6