December 9, 2018
First Reading: Baruch 5:1-9
Second Reading: Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11
Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
Honestly, as I sit and reflect today, there is a side of me that stumbles with despair. There is a poignant song in the 2000 movie version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas where Cindy Lou Who sings: “Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you?” Just like in that song, I find myself asking where is the hope that Advent promises when the landscape seems too rugged. But the readings for today give reason to pause, reflect, shake off that misery and begin to light the darkness with hope in the promise of the coming Christ.
Luke starts today’s gospel naming seven different political and religious leaders of the day thus John the Baptists’ cry for repentance is set against the landscape of calling a nation and its people to make straight their paths, to repent and return to the Lord. We hear John crying out in the wilderness “repent and prepare the way of the Lord.” On this second Sunday of Advent we are preparing for the coming of the Christ child: a child born on the road, in a town that had no room for him. I can’t help but look at these readings in the context of the migrants that have traveled thousands of miles only to be stopped or turned away at our borders.
We are to make straight the path of the Lord, and in that preparation, we are invited to ask how: how do we make straight the path? How do we recognize the Christ child in our midst? How do we make room? A little later in the gospel even the crowds ask John, “Then what shall we do?” (Luke 3:10). John tells them to share what they have.
As Catholics, we have been taught that hospitality for the migrant is part of the fabric of our belief. Our scriptures tell us that nations are judged by how we treat our anawim – the widows, orphans and migrants in our midst. We are told, “care for the migrants, for you yourselves were once migrants.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19) Elsewhere we hear, “pay attention to the strangers in your midst for you may have unknowingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13:2) Church documents, from “Rerum Novarum written in 1891 to Pope Francis’ 2018 “Gaudete et Exsultate,” plead for the world to respond to migrants with compassion.
Yet some will ask, “do we have to care of those who are not following our rules?” If we take an honest look, we’ll realize that we change the rules constantly. We’ve changed who can come from what countries, changed how many people we will let in and rewritten the rules around how we detain children and families. Even those who are trying to follow the rules have been backlogged in a system that seems to get slower each day. Are mountains are being built up rather than torn down; paths being cluttered with new obstacles rather than being made straight? If the Holy Family had to flee to our borders today, how would they be treated?
In the midst of this lament, these readings invite us to pause and reflect. We have to look beyond the political landscape and dig deeply into our own actions to search our hearts and return to God.
In our first reading, the same phrase of filling the valleys and making the mountains low is repeated, but it starts out with an invitation to “Take off your robe of mourning and misery.” Baruch is reminding us that the glory of God, the peace of justice, will return. We are told that, “God has commanded that every lofty mountain will be made low… so that we might advance secure in the glory of God.” It is a promise that if we trust in God’s justice and return to God with all our hearts, then we will experience the peace and hope that follows. We are each invited to explore what it might mean to move away from mourning and wrap ourselves in the “cloak of justice.” One step is to hold fast to hope in Christ, not to despair. And a second step might be to decide how we wrap ourselves in the cloak of justice. What are the paths we are willing to walk in search of forming right relationships – maybe a protest or a prayer vigil? What are the mountains we could tear down, to help God’s justice bring peace into the world?
Our second reading gives us additional clues for how to move forward in hope and justice. Paul’s words are words of prayer: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it.” His prayer for the Philippians is one of confidence that we “may increase in love” to “discern what is of value.” Prayer, fervent prayer, is critical in the movement from despair to hope. We must be filled with prayer for one another, and pray always for love. We pray that our love may increase to help us discern what is of value. What are the ways we can pray for and love those who are suffering, or those who we might not want to face? What are the ways that we can reposition our values to line up with God’s call to care for the anawim, to share what we have?
By the end of that song in The Grinch, Cindy Lou Who sings, “If there is love in your heart and your mind, you will feel like Christmas all the time.” We are being asked to remember to hope, to pray, to repent and to stand with the prophets crying out in the wilderness. We are reminded to love, to be a light in the darkness as a sign of God’s hope, to prepare a way for the Lord, not only during Advent, but vigilantly, fervently, every day.
Christina R. Zaker
Director of Field Education
Director of English for Theological Education
Adjunct Lecturer in Pastoral Ministry