THEME: MOUNTAINS WILL BE LEVELLED AND VALLEYS FILLED UP
READINGS: Baruch 5:1-9/ Philippians 1:4-6,8-11/ Luke 3:1-6
Second Sunday of Advent
A message which runs through today’s readings is that God’s people looked forward to His salvation with expectant joy. To save His people, God cleared the obstacles (mountains and valleys) which stood between them and the return to their homeland. Having returned home, the people burst out with great joy in praise of God, as captured in the responsorial Psalm: “When the Lord brought back the exiles of Sion, we thought we were dreaming. Then was our mouth filled with laughter; on our tongues, songs of joy” (Psalm 126:1-2).
The Exodus inspires Hope
The event of the Exodus, namely, how God mightily delivered the Israelites (led by Moses) from the slavery in Egypt, is permanently etched in their memory. Indeed, from a tender age, the Jewish child is repeatedly told this story; and the whole nation re-enacts it annually in the Passover Feast.
What was humanly impossible, God effortlessly did for His people to deliver them: nighttime was turned into day by a pillar of fire, so that they could travel farther from their oppressors; the impassable Red Sea was instantly made passable; in desperate need for water in the desert, God made it gush forth from a rock; in a wasteland with no food crops in sight, manna would rain down from the skies, etc. No wonder then, the Exodus would inspire hope in God’s people in later difficult times.
Return from Exiles
Centuries after the Exodus event, when the Jews were in exile in Babylon, the prophet would assure them that the God of Moses would remove any obstacles that stood between them and their return home. At a time when there was no planes to fly over mountains and valleys nor ultramodern bridges to span valleys of several miles, mountains and valleys were seen as humanly unsurmountable obstacles. These, however, are no way obstacles to the God of the Exodus.
On the other hand, the people to be saved had their personal mountains and valleys to deal with. Firstly, a statement of Jesus reveals what a personal mountain could be: “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move” (Matt. 17:20). Therefore, a personal mountain could be a lack of faith. Hence, when the prophet told the Jews to prepare the way for the Lord by levelling their mountains, he was urging them to renew their faith in God (cf. Isaiah 40:3-4).
Secondly, their personal valleys were their sins, because sin creates a gap between us and God. So, in exhorting his people to fill up their valleys (cf. Isaiah 40:3-4), the prophet was asking them to confess their sins and receive God’s forgiveness. As expected, when the Jews renewed their faith in God and confessed their sins, He brought them back to the Promised Land.
About 200 years thereafter the Jews would again create mountains between themselves and God by their lack of faith as well as valleys through their sins. As a result of this, they were conquered and scattered throughout the world. Hence, according to today’s first reading, another prophet would encourage them thus: “God has ordered that every high mountain … be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level the ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God” (Baruch 5:7).
Salvation in Jesus Christ
About 300 years after the message of today’s first reading, St. John the Baptist would begin his ministry of repentance in which there would be a call to level down mountains and fill up valleys (cf. Luke 3:1-6; today’s gospel reading). At the time John preached, his audience were not in physical exile; they were in the Promised Land. Therefore, the obstacles of mountains and valleys to be cleared were not physical ones. They were rather spiritual and personal mountains and valleys. Let us consider, on the one hand, how God overcame these obstacles; and on the other hand, his invitation to us to make straight our paths.
Firstly, there was the spiritual valley of the sin of all humankind, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The perfect sacrifice was required to clear this valley of sin. However, no human being could offer the perfect sacrifice to save all humankind. So, God lovingly decided to sacrifice His only Begotten Son to save us (cf. John 3:16).
Secondly, there was a spiritual mountain or hurdle to clear. That is, how can the divine Son (of God) become human, since divine nature is infinitely superior to and different from the human nature? God effortlessly overcame this spiritual mountain by making His Son incarnate in the womb of the Immaculate Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In short, then, God overcame the spiritual valley and mountain through the incarnation, life, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is now our turn to deal with our personal valleys of sins and mountains of doubts with the help of God’s grace. Let us, therefore, endeavor to sincerely repent of our sins and confess them to God, so that our personal valleys can be filled up; and if we have any mountain of doubts, may we call upon Him to clear them for us.
In joyful expectation of the Almighty God to return them to the earthly Promised Land, the Jews of old confessed their sins and renewed their faith in Him. In comparison to the earthly Promised Land, the heavenly life which God has promised us is exceedingly joyful and everlasting. Therefore, let us hastily give up our sins which have created valleys and any doubts which obstructs our view of eternity. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John K. Louis