If you wish to read the texts click on the texts: Bar 5:1-9; Phil 1:3-6,8-11; Lk 3:1-6
The Gospel text of today begins with a number of chronological references. These are not merely historical but also, theological. The chronological references are of two kinds: political and religious or even, secular and religious. By such a strategy, Luke has succeeded, not only in situating the preaching of John the Baptist in history but also, in stating that God works through Jesus in every sphere of human life. No area is beyond the purview of God’s influence. However, as true as this is, it is also true that God’s word regarding his Son and his coming is not revealed to the great and powerful. God’s word was revealed, not to the high priest, but to a prophet in the wilderness. He will be the one who will prepare the way of the One who is to come.
The preaching of John the Baptist, which might have seemed restricted to the geographical area in which he preached, is actually extensive. It extends, not only to a few people or even to one category of people but, to all peoples everywhere. It breaks all barriers and boundaries. In his preaching, John issues a summons, to all who are willing to listen, to “repent”. This summons is issued in order that everyone might prepare their minds and hearts for the coming of the Lord. If all of nature, the valleys, the mountains, and the hills, respond to this call, then, the least humans can do is to also respond.
This call to respond to what God is doing for his people is also part of the theme of the First reading of today. God, in his mercy and infinite love, has visited his people and brought them salvation. Even in the most miserable conditions, even when all seems lost, even when it does not seem worthwhile to carry on, perseverance is indeed, the key. The misery and desolation will not continue forever. Things will change. This means that his people must constantly engage with human life in all its complexity, ambiguity, and incomprehension. They do not deny the sufferings and pains. They do not deny that there are challenges ahead. Rather, despite their awareness of these things, they plod on. What will sustain them on the path is the confidence that the Lord will guarantee a just future.
Even as we want to believe this, a cursory look around us today belies this guarantee. Injustice and oppression seem to continue unabated and unchecked. The oppressors are seen to get away with even the most violent of crimes. The cries of the poor and marginalized seem to fall on deaf ears. Where is the God of hope? Where is the God of consolation? Where is the God of justice and righteousness? Why does he not answer?
The truth is that he is here and that he does answer. He keeps speaking his word at every moment but, his word will not be heard as long we close our ears, our eyes, and our hearts. It is not God, but we, as humans, who are responsible for the depressing situation in which we find ourselves today. However, even in this depression, there is a ray of hope and Paul provides it in the Second reading of today. Writing to the Philippians from prison, he exudes confidence, courage, and joy. His first words to them are words of thankfulness and joy. Though he had a capital sentence hanging over him, Paul will not let something as “minor’ as that affect his disposition and attitude. He will continue to be hopeful. He will continue to believe. The source of his faith is not something theoretical but something very practical. It is based on what God has already done in Christ and, what God will do in all who believe. The Philippians, on their part, have let nothing come in the way of their confidence in God. They have shown this by proclaiming, through their sharing in the good news, that God, in Christ, is reconciling the world to himself.
Thus, despite all evidence to the contrary, the readings of today converge on one main point: hope. This hope is not illusive or deceptive, but real and reliable. It is hope that is tangible. God has given grounds for this hope by bringing back his people from exile into freedom, as Baruch had prophesied. The whole of nature has been transformed by what God has done for his people. God has given further grounds for this hope through the proclamation of John the Baptist who announced, not only what God has already done but also, what he is still in the process of doing. Paul and the Philippians lived out this hope even in the most trying circumstances. They continued to believe, even when things seemed totally out of control. They believed because they were confident that God, who began the good work, would bring it to completion.
The readings of today pose two related challenges to us who profess to be disciples of Jesus. The first challenge is that we continue to proclaim, even when things do not go the way we want, that God is still in charge. This proclamation cannot remain at the verbal level but has to be translated into action. The Church is called to be that “voice in the wilderness” which proclaims that injustice is at an end and that the poor will be given their just due. It is called to proclaim that all forms of oppression and degradation are not part of God’s plan for humanity. The second challenge is that we continue to proclaim the message, not merely within the Church but, to all peoples everywhere. It is an inclusive message and thus, includes the whole of humanity and nature as well.
Baruch and John the Baptist dared to proclaim the message. Paul and the Philippians lived it. Will we?