Baruch 5, 1-9; Philippians 1, 4-6.8-11; Luke 3, 1-6.
We are approaching yet another Christmas festive season. This is not a time to put aside what is worrying in the world and in the Church.
It looks as if we are at a profound impasse. The Church continues to be deeply polarised, pressured by suspicion, investigation, anger, cynicism and sadness. The political scene also provides worrying traits of new extremisms fuelling anti-immigrant movements, climate change, and new forms of slavery.
In today’s first reading Baruch sounds reassuring. He looks beyond his immediate experience of Jerusalem destroyed and projects his vision of a city rebuilt with spendour and glory. Trusted by the prophet Jeremiah, Baruch found himself among the exiled in Babylon after the death of the prophet. Here he is sort of projecting the legacy of Jeremiah, committed to convey with boldness the prophet’s energetic vision as a voice of hope at a time of profound impasse.
The vision portrayed here is powerful even for us today, when, as in those days, we are called to cross from impasse to prophetic hope. We are also facing a worrying situation locally, as Church and country alike. We cannot afford for the umpteenth time to hide all this behind the glittering Christmas lights and good wishes. We desperately need to recover the true spirit that can serve as antidote to all that is distorting political conversation as well as to all that keeps debilitating the credibility of the Church in its commitment to be a voice of hope.
This is a good time to sense in our bodies the anxiety for salvation and to recover a deep and authentic desire to rebuild the foundations of a solid social cohesion that can make life more liveable. If Christmas fails to spark in us this anxiety and desire, then we’re simply off-track. The historical reality Baruch was addressing was devastating, both politically and religiously.
In the second reading, St Paul’s prayer for his community echoes this: “You can always recognise what is best”. Lowering standards in our expectations, in what we do for our country, and in recovering the true Christian spirit, generates mediocrity, which in turn robs us of the zest of living and the inner force that faith in the Lord can rekindle in our hearts and minds.
John the Baptist, in line with the Old Testament prophets, was anointed to prepare the way for the Lord. This is about making smooth whatever is rough in our dealings with each other and with ourselves. It is about believing we can rebuild solid foundations for our society. It is about rediscovering how keeping the faith can also guarantee a healthy and authentic living.
The Christmas message is basically about possibilities. When God’s proposal reached her, Mary’s answer was: “Nothing will be impossible with God”. With God all things are possible, even things that are unbelievable.
Philosopher John Caputo writes about this in his book On Religion: “The future is the domain of the possible. We say that we want the future to be bright, promising, open. The force of the future is to prevent the present from closing in on us, from closing us up.”
This is what Baruch writes about and what John the Baptist is saying when he speaks of valleys to be filled and mountains to be laid low. Faith is about not letting our present become our prison cell, faith is a promise that the present can be transformed in a bright future.
Caputo again distinguishes between the foreseeable and the unforeseeable future. We would be foolish not to have long-term plans, retirement plans and life insurance policies where the foreseeable future is concerned. But there is an unforeseeable future for which “we must be like the lilies of the field who sow not, nor do they reap, but who are willing to go with what God provides”.
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