Today’s scriptural passages bring to us the reassuring message of God’s promise of “a new heaven and a new earth.” All the readings for this day use images that make this promise closer to us in ways that lure us to desire it: Comfort for God’s people, fearless freedom, truth springing from the earth, bountiful harvest from the land, justice marching before us. Another word for this promise is PEACE, God’s Shalom, the theme of the second Sunday of Advent.
Inversely, the conditions described above inform us of the enormous suffering from generations of people’s bondage in slavery and oppressive rule. This was the context when prophetic voices flourished. Prophets of old like Isaiah, Daniel, Enoch, Samuel, and all other prophets spoke up and stood against the sinful ways that drew people away from their God.
The prophetic voices and their witness modeled for us a total dedication, a complete separation from corrupt and fallen Israel. The word they spoke was uncompromised, completely challenging, untainted by either fear or favor, and was wholly of God alone.
In reflecting on the good news of God’s promise as we prepare for the coming of the Messiah, it is important to take notice of the wilderness referred to by Isaiah in his prophecy (40:3). Many biblical stories have the wilderness as the background of significant events. God spoke to Abraham while he was in the wilderness. God brought the Israelites into the wilderness to speak to them at Mount Sinai. This is where He spoke to Moses. In the wilderness, God met with Elijah. So, we may ask: Why the wilderness? What is its relevance in the fulfillment of God’s promise?
The wilderness, interchangeably called a desert, is a place of intimate encounter, of separation from distracting influences, of facing reality, of letting go, of preparation…a place of deep listening and decision-making. Coincidentally, the Hebrew word for the “desert” midbar uses the same 4 consonant letters (MDBR) that spell another Hebrew word medaber which means “to speak”. God is present in the wilderness and reveals this presence to those who listen and are open to seeing, hearing, and receiving a message that is meaningful, powerful, and life-changing.
God led and met with Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and Elijah in the wilderness. The desert or wilderness was an experience of harshness, barrenness, roughness, emptiness, isolation, aloneness, insecurity, and vulnerability. Yet, it became the birthplace of a new identity, of a deeper and more solid relationship with God, and of a new orientation to one’s life purpose. In the wilderness, God revealed Himself in wondrous and awesome ways that one is liberated from any other need or want but God.
Such an experience of the wilderness can become a profound source of courage, wisdom, and commitment to act and speak on behalf of God. To lead others back to God, the encounter with God empowers one to dare to challenge the present oppressive state, interrupt the prevailing unjust systems, and uplift the hope for the coming of God’s day of justice and peace.
John the Baptist emerged as the “voice from the wilderness” prophesied by Isaiah 700 years before him. He is considered a pivotal figure in God’s salvation history. His formative years were lived in obscurity in the desert (Luke 1:80). His public ministry ended what theologians called 400 Years of Silence. It began with the warning that closed the Old Testament: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” (Malachi 4:5)
Just because there was prophetic silence does not mean this was an uneventful period in Israel’s history. God continued to speak but no new written scriptures were noted. God was working all things out for His glory and the salvation of humanity.
The silence ended with the coming of John the Baptist, making him a “transitional figure”. Within that period, great conflict and struggle defined the time between the last word from the prophets and the rule of King Herod. These created the circumstances under which the Messiah was born.
These same circumstances of political upheaval, moral degradation, and scandalous poverty provided the backdrop with which John carried the central theme of his ministry: “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near.” He did not only preach; he embodied his prophecy by pointing to the sole purpose of his being: he was to prepare the way for the Messiah who was to come after him.
Almost two millennia have passed since John the Baptist ended that period of prophetic silence. This Advent, let us connect with and reflect on God’s promise of peace in the context of our present-day circumstances. Can we allow God to lead us into the wilderness of our time and space and liberate us from all that enslave us? Do we love God enough to engage with and hear God speaking through the prophetic voices around us? Are we alert enough to discover the potential of vulnerability and poverty to empower us to orient ourselves to God? Will we immerse ourselves in this orientation long enough to make it the ground for life-changing choices to hope and act for a just and lasting peace? Amid the untruth, corruption, violence, wars, and immorality reigning in our land and our lives, will we dare add to the prophetic voices crying for change, live everyday prophetic action, and witness to God’s power as the source of prophetic hope?
December 10, Sunday, we begin the second week of Advent. Let us celebrate the promise of Peace, God’s Shalom, as the world commemorates the 75th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Let us revisit every aspect of our lives and nurture seeds for co-creating a new heaven and a new earth, here and now.
Gospel reflection of Sr. Rowena J. Pineda, MMS for the Second Sunday of Advent IS 40:1-5, 9-11, PS 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14, 2 PT 3:8-14, MK 1:1-8