2nd Advent [B] 2008

Fr. Charles Irvin

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3: 8-14; Mark 1:1-6
 
When you listen to GeorgeFridericHandel’s oratorio The Messiah the very first words you hear are those from the 40th Chapter of the Book of Isaiah the prophet: Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated. The prophet is telling God’s people that by His power God is gathering his lambs and tenderly holding them close to His heart as he returns them to their homeland. Their enslavement in Babylon is over and they are to be comforted by God’s tender love in His powerful arms.

The recent economic downturn has captured our own hearts and mercilessly held us in the grip of fear, anxiety, and worry over what may happen to us and to our families. Other events shatter the peace and security of many of us. Someone’s world collapses when their spouse suddenly walks out on them, when their doctor informs them that they have cancer or some other fatal disease, when their child is struck down in a horrible accident, when their company goes bankrupt, when their stockbroker calls and tells them the bad news about their retirement portfolio, when their bank forecloses on their mortgaged home, or when their customers can no longer buy their product. Many, many Americans are experiencing a captivity of fear and loss that people in other countries of the world have already experienced in so very many ways.  

Next Sunday we will hear the voice of John the Baptist in the desert: Make straight a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. God is refashioning human life. We are being called out of darkness. 

There are so many whose view of God is fear-based. They depict God has filled with wrath bent on fiery destruction of a world gone bad. To be sure, God punishes in some instances, and there are times when we want to call down His damnation and wrath on others who have hurt us or brought terrible loss to us. We should, however, ask ourselves if that is the sort of God Jesus brings to us.  

Once again the ancient Jewish prophet Isaiah foretells what Jesus Christ will be all about.
Said Isaiah: 

Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: 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. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care. 

The world has wrapped its arms around us and holds us in a crushing grip that fills our hearts with dread and fear. Dread and fear can cause us to harden our hearts and freeze them with a coldness toward God coupled with a complete loss of trust and faith. Many, perhaps, have lost sight of God. Others have a vision of God that is twisted and deformed.  

God, as St. Peter tells us in today’s second reading, is a God of patience, not wishing that anyone should perish but that all should come to a change of heart that allows them to open up to the God who changes and transforms human hearts with His tender, loving kindness and care. “Let us see your kindness,” sings the psalmist, “kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.” Will we hear what God proclaims? For He proclaims peace to his people. Will we accept His kindness?

The peace that God wants to give us is not simply the absence of conflict nor just the presence of financial security. God’s peace is that which comes when we allow ourselves to be held close to His heart and wrapped in the strong arms of His love. Our security is found in our closeness with Him.

It is love that changes everything. It is love that changes our lives. Do you remember how your world was completely changed when you first fell in love with someone? Have you experienced the hell of living with no one to love, with no one to love you, and the anger that welled up within you as a result? Isaiah knew what that was like. But he also came to know God’s heart. Once again we hear God’s voice within him saying: Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to those held captive by the calamities of this life and tell them that God cares for them.

But while all of this is true, it is also true that God’s love will not enter our hearts unless we let Him come close to us, unless we let his love enter into us. I am always saddened when I come across people who have not known God’s love, or who once knew it but now have lost it. It’s sad to know that they live in such loss, in such impoverishment, in such lack of hope for a future that is out of this world. Why is it that so many refuse to allow themselves to receive Him into their lives? Who refuse to receive Him in Holy Communion? Who reject His presence in His Church?

Once again, for us as Christians, the way to bring others to God’s love is the way of Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s expression of Himself to us, God’s Word made human for us, God’s flesh and blood presence of Himself to us. The way into a world that is hardened and cold, made that way in many instances by loss and suffering, anxiety and worry, is the way of the Good Shepherd.

Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: 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. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care. 

Love casts out fear. Love gives us the experience of God. Make straight its path into your heart.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”