Lk 3:1-6 Bar 5:1-9 Phil 1:4-6.8-11
Focus: Like John the Baptist’ and Jesus’ contemporaries, we are called upon to repent and to prepare the way of the Lord, within us and around us.
Function: However, we do not have to do everything alone.
Dear sisters and brothers in the faith, 0. a. Homing pigeons are fascinating birds that have long baffled ornithologists. They can be trained to return home swiftly without losing their way from even several thousand miles! It’s clear that they don’t do this by eyesight; the birds can be blindfolded and they still find their way home. Researchers generally agree that it’s probably no one faculty that enables the pigeons to find their home, but a combination of possibilities including magnetic fields of the earth, smells, “reading” the position of the sun and stars, or ultraviolet light patterns in the sky. A factor that has been considered more strongly in recent years is that they are guided by low frequency sound waves that emanate from just about everything, and that they use to map their environment. However they do it: these pigeons are masters at finding home!
At this time of the liturgical year when we consider the end times and our own true and ultimate home, we might well wonder what leads us just as swiftly and surely there.
In our first reading today, the Prophet Baruch describes what God promises to do for God’s people: God will lead them home. This is good news for Baruch’s contemporaries. His book, composed later than most of the other Old Testament writings, gives a vision of hope to a scattered people of Israel.
The Babylonian Exile had happened; and some fifty years later the Persian King Cyrus had given permission for the Israelites to return home and to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. However, many over 200 years later still for various reasons lived scattered in a number of countries.
According to Baruch, the people’s return to their land and to their city, Jerusalem, will come as a gift from God. The Holy One will speak and Jerusalem’s children will be gathered from the east and from the west, from all directions. They will rejoice, because God remembers them.
They will be carried back as on royal thrones: they will experience their royal dignity. God will see to it that the lofty mountains be made low and that the age-old gorges will be filled to level ground. God will make sure that nobody gets lost on the journey guiding Israel by the light of his glory. As the merciful one God will show mercy as well as justice to God’s scattered people.
In today’s gospel, John the Baptist, the latest of the prophets of old, uses the prophetic image of preparing ways, of filling valleys and of making mountains and hills low in a different sense. His message is complementary to the one of Baruch. He makes the point that we humans necessarily have to cooperate with God’s movement of gathering.
Repentance is necessary; then, only then forgiveness of sins can and will happen. Then, only then, all flesh, human beings everywhere, will see the salvation of God.
Later, in his own public ministry, Jesus we become the great gatherer. He will carry out God’s gathering movement and so fulfill Baruch’s prophecy. However, an element of choice is always involved. Once we find Jesus sadly looking toward the great city and say:
“Jerusalem, …how many times I yearned to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling.” (Lk 13:34)
At the beginning of today’s gospel, Luke places Jesus into the historical context of his time. Later it will become clear that certainly most political and religious leaders of Jesus’ time will “not recognize what makes for peace” (Lk 19:42). They will end up rejecting him.
Dear sisters and brothers in the faith, Like John the Baptist’ and Jesus’ contemporaries, we are called upon to repent and to prepare the way of the Lord, within us and around us. However, we do not have to do everything alone.
In today’s second reading, we find St. Paul filled with joy about the Philippians’ partnership for the gospel from the beginning. God has begun a good work in you, he says. What is the good work that God has begun in us? How has knowing the Christian faith, Jesus and his gospel, already made a difference in our lives? We can reflect about good choices that we have made according to the mind and heart of Jesus during the past days and weeks. These were the times when we cooperated with God’s great gathering movement.
Plus, we can ask ourselves: What are the gorges that we need to fill, and the mountains and hills that we need to make low with the help of God’s grace so that our journey home becomes more straight and direct? Homing pigeons follow their instinct to find their way home. We have to make choices in order for this to happen.
Let us pray today that our love may increase; this comes to us as a gift and it is a task at the same time.
Fr. Thomas Leitner, OSB