• Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda

Hoping and Waiting for God (Advent 2C)


“Hoping and Waiting”

By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda

2nd Sunday in Advent (C) - December 9, 2018

Baruch 5:1-9

5:1 Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. 2 Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; 3 for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. 4 For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.” 5 Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. 6 For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne. 7 For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. 8 The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command. 9 For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Today is the Second Sunday in Advent. Advent is a short season in the church calendar, often overshadowed by the the rush to call all of December the “Christmas season.” But I’m becoming more and more convinced, that we Christians are really an Advent people. You see, during Advent, we hope and wait for Christmas. To most people, that just means waiting for the day when we can open our presents and drink some egg nog with family and friends.

But truly we are hoping and waiting for something much deeper and more profound than anything you can buy from Amazon on Black Friday. We are hoping and waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ. And I don’t just mean our remembrance of his birth in history. We are hoping and waiting for Jesus to come back. We’re hoping and waiting for his return in glory. And we’re especially hoping for his perfect kingdom of peace and justice to be realized among us.

That hope is important to anyone who realizes that the world isn’t perfect the way it is. If your eyes are open enough, you will see the violence, suffering, pain, and heartache of the world. You know things aren’t the way they should be. Well, Christians believe that God agrees. God sees the brokenness of the world and wants to heal and restore it.

The people of God have recognized this throughout biblical history, even before the birth of Jesus. And the faithful, like us, have longed and waited for God to fix the world. This kind of waiting is deep and soul-wrenching because it is born out of pain. Our hearts ache for and with the world, so our hearts ache for Jesus to return.

We know that the world is messed up. We know that God doesn’t like it that way. We hope and long for God to do something to fix the mess. We might even know that God promises to heal the restore everything. But what exactly are we hoping and waiting for in Advent as we look ahead to the Last Day? That question is a bit too big for one sermon, but we can get a little more insight by examining the biblical prophecies and visions about our future hope.

Luke tells us that John the Baptist, son of Zechariah, “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

John’s ministry was about preparing the way of the Lord and making God’s paths straight. This famous metaphor about filling the valleys and lowering the mountains comes from Isaiah 40:3-5. The astute reader of Isaiah will notice that the prophecy in chapter 40 is about hope for Israel’s return from exile. Our Old Testament lesson today makes that connection more explicit.

Baruch writes: “5 Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. 6 For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne. 7 For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. 8 The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command. 9 For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.”

A little background is in order. It’s hard to understand a lot of what’s going on in the Old Testament without remembering that Israel experienced many tragic military defeats. The most famous one happened in the 500s BC. Judah had survived for several hundred years as a small, feisty kingdom surrounded by the major empires of the ancient world. Judah was built on the legacy of the famous kings of the Bible, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and others. But by the early 6th century, Judah was on its last rope. They were forced to pay crippling taxes to the biggest bully of the day, Babylon.

Judah was getting pushed around so much that they staged a doomed rebellion. Babylon sent their enormously powerful army to crush the country. They demolished every small town on the path to Jerusalem. And when they got to Jerusalem they didn’t just invade it, they besieged it. This was a cruelly clever war strategy in which the invading army surrounds a city and cuts off all trade in and out of the city. Sometimes, as in this case, they cut off the city’s water supply. They try to starve out the people so that they are easy pickings when/if the fight actually starts. This went on for about 18 months before, in 586, Babylon razed Jerusalem to the ground, tearing down most of the city walls, robbing the treasures of the LORD’s Temple, and burning that Temple to the ground.

Then, the Babylonian army took all of Jerusalem’s best and brightest, the children of its royalty and nobility, brought them back to Babylon as prisoners of war to become servants in the capital of the empire. The children of Jerusalem were scattered abroad, losing their families, homes, culture, and freedom. This lasted for about two generations before some of the exiled peoples were able to come back home to Jerusalem.

But we have to hear Baruch speaking during the exile, to the people of God who have been so humiliated and decimated by mighty Babylon. Imagine being one of these exiled Israelites. You are hundreds of miles from home in a land you don’t know among people you don’t know who speak a language you don’t know and treat you like you’re not worth knowing.

And then imagine hearing Baruch’s words: “5 Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. 6 For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne.” God has not forgotten us! God has not abandoned us! Can you imagine the hope that it would inspire just to know that all the pain and suffering they endured didn’t mean that God had left them?

And not only was God still with them, but God was planning for their rescue and return. “7 For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.” The mountains flatten and the valleys rise to make the pathway smooth for Israel to go home. God, who controls the whole world, loves us enough even to bend the landscape to show us that love. God is faithful even when the world around us falls apart and seem hopeless.

The exile was the worst thing anyone from Israel or Judah could imagine happening. They lost their home, their house of worship, and much of their culture. It was a traumatizing experience. But God was still their God. In much the same way, we hope in God’s powerful and miraculous ability to rescue, even when life beats us down.

And in the case of Israel, the prophecies came true. Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of some Israelites actually returning to rebuild Jerusalem and reconsecrate the Temple. It didn’t always go the way the people expected, but God actually delivered on this promise in history. That should give us a boost in confidence.

We hope and wait for Jesus to return and make all things new, just like exiled Israel hoped and waited for God to bring them home. Our hope in Jesus is as certain as Israel's hope in rescue from exile, which actually happened. God did one, and God is going to do the other. The world is broken now, but it won’t always be this way. Jesus will make it right. That is what we hope and wait for this Advent. Amen.

Image Credit: http://stjudesunichurch.com/blog/2013/8/1/a-highway-for-our-god

#sermon #Advent

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