2nd Sunday of Advent(B)
December 4, 2011
Words of comfort open today’s liturgy: “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem!” – so says Isaiah. Addressing the seat of thought and wisdom, which is the “heart,” rather than the head, Isaiah reassures them of two things: one, all their debts have been paid for fully, and second, their suffering has come to an end!
I am sure everyone can see and “feel” the impact of such a great news, if one places himself/herself in the shoes of a people thrown into bitter exile, not just once in their history. I am sure, too, how relieved one can be when, after undeservedly suffering so much in silence, one is finally vindicated and declared free from the burden of guilt or accusation. We all experience this every time we get reconciled to the Lord so many times. We all feel relieved after a well-spent time on retreat, and done reparation for our own personal sins. We feel we are granted a fresh lease on life and everything good associated with it. We feel energized to do good. We feel hopeful and eager to start over and do better.
Starting over … This is partly what Advent is all about. We did this spiritual, mental, and attitudinal turn-over beginning last week, after the ominous-sounding images of the end-times that reached its highest point with the celebration of Christ, the King.
Today, the second out of a short period of four Sundays, we are presented with the real reason for our emerging hopefulness and joyfulness. “Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.”
Of course, we know that this prophetic message from Isaiah was fulfilled with the coming of Christ, the very coming in history that we now celebrate in mystery … the very reality that the mystery of the Liturgy reminds us of, makes once again present, and makes us celebrate in ritual, sign, song, and symbol! This is the same mystery that we all look forward to celebrating in glory at his second coming!
But we live in the so-called “in-between-times” – in between his coming in history and his coming in glory. This is a big reality check. We want to go to heaven, assuredly, but the fullness promised by heaven is only something we can experience partly and inchoately, for as long as we live on mortal earth!
Let us name some of the earthly reality that, at times, bogs us down … Let us take a quick glance at what makes this place, here and now, a “valley of tears,” a place where the militant Church, so called, is still fully immersed in, even as it sets its sights on the joys now being experienced by the triumphant Church – the Church of the angels and saints, and all those who have gone ahead of us to the house of the Father.
Let us face it … no matter Isaiah’s brave and certain proclamation of things to come, not every valley is filled in, last thing I heard … hills posing as obstacles to peace and goodwill are all over the place … the terrorists who have hijacked religion and made God an excuse for mayhem and violence, are still as active as ever. A lot of hate still fills the hearts of otherwise Godly people who, in the name of the very same God they claim to believe, and serve, give tit for tat, “an eye for an eye; and a tooth for a tooth.” In a very real sense, the vicious cycle of hatred and violence, is kept rolling and whirring by precisely Godly people, who base their positions and actions on the very same foundation they hate other Godly and religious people for – their claim to worship the “true god.” And any one who does not, is deserving of my hatred and all the opprobrium I am capable of working out from within me!
Have you had enough? There is more! I live in a predominantly Christian country … or so we think! But guess what! The most heinous massacre two years ago, happened in a place contested by two warring religious groups (who are, maybe, primarily political). 57 people all died in cold blood, a good number of them journalists who really had nothing to do with what they were fighting tooth and nail for. Want to hear more? Most of those who actually did the gruesome deed were Christian employees of the warlords who both claimed to worship the “true God.”
We are worse off than the Israelite people of old, cooped up in lonely and bitter exile, far from home, far from the temple, far from the familiar sights and sounds of home. My country and people are now cooped up in its own brand of exile … Reason and compassion and unsullied desire for justice plain and simple, have now taken a back seat, and given way to the overfocused, vindictive, and systematic persecution of those who have fallen from power. Instead of an impartial process of seeking redress, we are caught up in the national frenzy of what appears to be a veritable mob lynching and irrational thirst, not so much for righteousness, but for blood, for vengeance, for retribution.
And we are not guided by the prophetic words of Isaiah, neither by the wisdom of a Solomon, and the gut-wrenching guilt and penitence of a David, upon learning that the hated man that he spoke so bitterly against, was really him, as Nathan told him: “That man is you!” We are not guided by the Word of God, and definitely not by the prudence that the Holy Book extols for those in authority and leadership. The heavily biased Mass Media has now replaced the Holy Book. Every one now who talks and acts like lawyers and political analysts, courtesy of a relentless media blitz against the perceived witch and author of all corruption in the Philippines, is fed, nourished, and egged on by media commentators and columnists who act out of an official tag-line and policy statement of media moguls who are also business tycoons and political kingmakers and public opinion swayers.
Prudence, common sense, judiciousness and compassion have all taken a vacation, or an indefinite self-exile! Even friends who I would consider Godly and religious, have taken to the bandwagon, bought the media’s stories hook, line, and sinker, and described the media’s favorite enemy as patently “evil,” sans trial, sans proofs, sans due process! Mob lynching has once more reared its ugly head in the name of democracy!
It is hard for me to preach on hope these days. The fast pace of the cyberspace world and the digital revolution has rendered waiting and hoping obsolete. News can be had in real time, and rumors generated by anyone in this borderless world, can pass off as facts faster than you can finish reading this sentence. In an “over connected” world, money markets can crash and fall in a matter of seconds, and reputations of leaders can be destroyed literally at a push of a button. Wikileaks and Wikigate can make or undo administrations in a twinkling of an eye. And hatred and unbridled anger can be worked up against anyone with just the right amount of media exposure which the media crazed public will gobble up like sharks gobble up harmless and helpless plankton.
It is hard to preach about hope, for in this media saturated internet world of the here and the now, hope sounds more like an opium for the people. Hope is not popular for a blood-thirsty world and people now schooled in instant results and instant gratification, also clamors now for instant retribution.
But as a priest and preacher … as educator and teacher … as pastor and prophet, I deal with matters of the “heart” in the Biblical sense. The product I push has nothing to do primarily with the here and the now, the instantaneous and the sensationalistic. The product I push is one that lets us set our sights to things above, rather than on things below.
As such, forgive me if I sound a little too otherworldly for comfort … for this is what salvation is about. It’s about awaiting a new heavens and a new earth … It is about building this beginning here, beginning now. And, in case you missed it, Peter spoke about it in today’s second reading. The new heavens and the new earth that he sets our sights on, is filled, not with thirst for blood and vengeance, and vindictiveness and hatred, but with righteousness. It is a place where “righteousness dwells.” (2nd reading)
Last thing I heard, not every valley has been filled in yet, and not every rough road has been made straight and level. There is work to do. There is much to do. And there is enough in the world to do it … You and I … beginning here, beginning now. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths: all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”