10 December 2006

Homily - 10 December 2006

“Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights; look to the east and see … the light of his glory” (Baruch 5:5, 9). This is the Advent posture. We stand and look to the east, to the land of the rising sun. We stand in hope and look with joy for the coming of Christ our King who is the “salvation of God” (Luke 3:6).

From a spiritual point of view, the one who stands is one who is able to move swiftly and eagerly toward the Lord. The one who stands is able to survey the road lying open before him. The one who stands is able to move along the road removing, with the grace of God, whatever obstacles lie in the way. The one who stands and looks intently can heed the words of John the Baptist: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths” (Luke 3:4; Isaiah 40:3).

To prepare the way for the Savior, the Baptizer issues this command:” Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:5-6; Isaiah 40:4-5).

What potholes, then, lie before you on the way to Jesus Christ? What twists in the road need straightening? Where is the road crumbling and in need of repair? For each of us the answer to these questions will be different but no less important. We must cooperate with the grace of God to remove these stumbling blocks, these sins that keep us from beholding the vision of God. Whatever it is that keeps us from him must be uprooted and torn down, all done in a spirit of joyful hope for we know that he is coming indeed!

We know, though, that at the same time that we are preparing the way for him he has also given the command that his way may be prepared for us, for he calls us to himself. “For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God” (Baruch 5:7).

We are, then, in a certain sense preparing the way for and toward each other, man toward God and God toward man. This is the motion of the lover to the beloved and of the beloved to the lover.

Simply think back to the parable of the prodigal son. Recall with what eagerness the father anticipated his son’s return: “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). Is this not how the Lord waits for us?

Imagine the preparations the father undertook as he waited each day for the return of his son. This is the wonder of love! That when we stray from him and forsake him, God never abandons us, never forgets us, never disregards us. Rather, he continually prepares the way for our return to him and for his coming to us.

“The forests and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God’s command; for God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company” (Baruch 5:8-9). As we, the new Israel, advance on our pilgrim way, the Lord orders these same trees to stretch out their branches over us, to shield us from the rays of the burning sun. He guards us from exhaustion and graces us with his strength so that we might prepare our hearts for his coming.

As we look for his coming, then, we must prepare ourselves and not simply wait. To simply await his arrival when the Lord himself helps to prepare the way would be very foolish and most unwise. Jesus himself told us to prepare our hearts for his coming so that he might find us watching and waiting, eager to welcome him with love. This is our task this Advent season, to prepare our hearts for his coming.

But this effort of preparation and repentance is not to be a dreary task, a great burden or drudgery. The Lord tells us: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever” (Baruch 5:1). Sadness and misery are not marks of the Christian life. For this reason, the Lord himself orders: “Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him” (Luke 15:22). With this new robe we are “wrapped in a cloak of justice from God” for we have been clothed in Christ Jesus (Baruch 5:2).

Will we be ready when he comes? Will he find us waiting in joyful hope? When we examine our lives in honesty our eyes are opened to the many ways that we have not prepared the way for the Lord. We see the ways in which we create obstacles in his path and we can be tempted to despair and lose hope in the Lord’s return, but we must always remember that we are not without hope for the Lord will come. Of this hope,

In Advent, the liturgy often repeats and assures us, as though seeking to defeat our mistrust, that God ‘is coming.’ He comes to be with us, in each one of our situations; he comes to live among us, to live with and in us; he comes to the distances that divide and separate us; he comes to reconcile us with himself and with one another. He comes in the history of humanity to knock on the door of every man and woman of good will to offer individuals, families and peoples the gift of fraternity, concord and peace (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 3 December 2006).
Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see the light of his glory!

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