Many people, especially children, enjoy opening the doors on an Advent Calendar. They are a daily count down of the days until Christmas, and can contain images from the Christmas story. At home, ours began with a star, which reminds us of the Star that appeared in the sky and was visible above Bethlehem, the star which led the Wise Men from the East. Advent means ‘coming’ and the Church prepares for Jesus’ coming over these four weeks. The star reinforces the idea that Christ’s coming was announced and visible. People could see that something was happening: it was a real event, something amazing and out of the ordinary. Some two thousand years later it remains so.
The Gospel this morning begins with precise historical details. The fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius was from September ad29-August ad30. This detail allows us to know when the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist began. St Luke also tells us the names of the governor of the province of Judea, the names of the various local rulers and the names of the Jewish high-priests for that year. This historical information is useful and tells us something about why St Luke is writing his Gospel. Luke’s Gospel is a work which narrates events that happened in a particular place and at a particular time. These are real historical events. At some point in the twelve month period described, John was inspired to go out into the Judaean desert. There he began to proclaim:
‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Lk 3:3)
The Jews were used to the idea of ritual washing and cleanliness, but this was something more, something which would turn your life around. Repentance means being sorry for what we have done wrong, and vowing not to do it again. It puts us in a position of being able to accept God’s love. Repentance makes it possible for the proclamation of God’s Kingdom. Luke understands John’s prophetic ministry as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa 40:3-5) which he quotes in verses 4-6 of Chapter 3. John the Baptist is the voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.
John prepares the way for Jesus by going before Him, preaching repentance, and calling people back to God. He does this is so that,
‘all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’(Lk 3:6)
God in Christ is saving His people. This is why we celebrate Jesus’ coming: firstly as a baby in Bethlehem, and then His Second Coming as our Saviour and our Judge. In addition, through the Holy Spirit, Christ comes to us in the Sacraments of the Church and the Scriptures every day. Jesus fills us with the love of God, and transforms us so that we become more like Him. This is Good News, the best news we’ve ever had!
The Book of Baruch is supposed to have been composed by a scribe of the prophet Jeremiah during the exile in Babylon, but was probably written a couple of centuries before the birth of Christ. Today’s reading is from the final chapter, which ends the work by offering Israel consolation. Being cheered up is always a very good thing, especially at the moment, with a new strain of Covid, prices going up, and winter upon us. Something to lift the spirits is particularly welcome. Baruch speaks to Jerusalem and tells her to:
‘Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction,…and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God’ (Bar 5:1)
This prophecy is fulfilled in the baptism first proclaimed by John, then Jesus, and now offered to the world by the Church. We are living proof of the fact that God keeps His promises, we can trust Him. Through our baptism we are able to:
‘Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God’ (Bar 5:2)
God makes us righteous, we cannot do it ourselves. Thanks to God’s grace, His unmerited kindness, we are clothed in godliness. Baruch tells Jerusalem to look eastward, to look at the rising sun. This reminds us of the star at Bethlehem which was in the East, and of Christ’s Resurrection on the first Easter. Baruch restates the prophecy of Isaiah that valleys will be filled and hills will be made low:
‘so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.’ (Bar 5:7)
Travel was a dangerous business in the Ancient World, and Baruch’s vision of the Kingdom of God is one of peace and glory:
‘For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.’(Bar 5:9)
This is what happens when Jesus proclaims the Kingdom: prophecy is fulfilled in Him, and we are the living proof of it.
Advent, then, is a joyful time, when we prepare for the coming of the one whom we love, and who loves us. We are free to love God and to serve him, and to invite others to do the same; to be baptised, to turn away from the world, and be fed by Word and Sacrament, built up into a community of love. As St Paul writes:
‘And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.’ (Phil 1:9-11)
God offers the world a radical alternative, built on love, which is shown most clearly in the Cross, when Jesus died for love of us. God loves us so that we might become lovely, and gave His life for us, so that we may come to share His life . This is our hope. This is the hope proclaimed by the prophets. This is the hope of Advent. We need to live out this hope in our lives. Only then can the world come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.