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2nd Sunday of Advent – Year C (December 6th)
Readings: Baruch 5:1-9
Philippians 1:3-6, 8-11
We shall only make sense of Advent if we recognise that the whole thing is God’s work. Next Sunday’s first reading, the closing verses of the book of Baruch, is apparently telling about the return from exile, back in the 6th century; but it probably comes from a time much closer to the birth of Jesus, and proclaims to Jerusalem that God is putting an end to her misery: “put on the beauty that comes from the glory of God…for God shall reveal your brightness to every land under heaven”. Then comes a poignant appeal: “arise, Jerusalem, and stand on a high place, and look to the sunrise, and see your children, gathered from the setting of the sun to its rising at the word of the Holy One”. It is all God’s doing: “for God will lead Israel with joy, by the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that comes from him.” Do you find difficulty in believing that this vision will come to us before Christmas Day? Then just wait, for God’s time is not our time; but God is at work.
The psalm for next Sunday looks back to what God did in the past. It is one of those hymns that they used to sing as they went up to Jerusalem on pilgrimage; in this one they remember the astonished joy with which their exile ended (but it was God’s doing): “when YHWH brought back those who returned to Sion, we thought we were dreaming”. They pinch themselves, however, and recall the reactions of the surrounding nations: “YHWH has done great deeds for them”, and confirm that reaction, “YHWH has indeed done great deeds for us – we were rejoicing”. It is not just nostalgia, however, for the psalmist also looks forward in time: “those who sow in tears will harvest in joy”.
In the second reading for next Sunday, Paul is writing from prison, in what is paradoxically one of his more joyful letters. What gives him joy here is the generosity that he has experienced at the hands of the Philippians, which he experiences as God’s generosity. He says that he rejoices “at your solidarity with the gospel, from Day One until the present”; this solidarity, however, is really the work of God: “the One who began in you the good work will complete it, right up to the Day of Christ Jesus”. And Paul prays for his Philippians (demonstrating that he recognises that it is not their doing), “that your love may more and more overflow in knowledge and all perception, that you may test the things that really matter…to the glory and praise of God”. Our Advent will be different this year, if God grants us this grace.
The gospel for next Sunday plays a neat trick on us, for Luke starts by showing us a pretty unsavoury cast of international historical figures: Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate (his local representative), Herod, Philip, Lysanias, and Annas and Caiaphas, before revealing that his interest is in none of these important personalities but somewhere else: “the word of God came to John, Zachariah’s son, in the desert”. John knows his task; it is to preach “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. Then the message is hammered home by a quotation from Isaiah to describe John’s mission: “the voice of one shouting in the desert, ‘make the Lord’s way ready, make his paths straight’.” Then it describes what the Lord will do, in terms reminiscent of the first reading: “every ravine shall be filled, and every mountain and hill laid low”. The ending, however, is where we began, with the God who is at work: “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”. There is no alternative, this Advent-time, to recognising that it is God who is at work; and God operates rather differently from Santa Claus or the commercial magnates who are doing so well for themselves at this season of the year.