Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C 2018
There are two main instances in the Old Testament where God shows His saving power. The first instance is the Exodus experience. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. They had lost any hope of being freed. Their ruler was Pharaoh; a powerful man with a harden heart. The second was the Babylonian captivity. They lost Jerusalem; their land, their temple and their identity.
The Babylonian king was the most powerful man on earth at the time. The Israelites had no hope of being set free and returning to their land. In short, their worth as persons were battered by the mere fact that they had lost their land. This valley of captivity hindered them from being the people God called them to be. Pharaoh and the Babylonian king were their mountains.
This background gives an idea why the prophet Baruch exhorts, “Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever”. Why? Because the Israelites had found favour with the Persian king, Cyrus the Great. He will conquer Babylon and set the Israelites free. They will return to their land and rebuild the temple and their lives.
This was a moment that changed everything for the Israelites. Their valley of fear, of despair, of distrust was filled up by the saving actions of God. He called Moses to set them free from Egypt, and Cyprus to send them back to their land. But He also brought down their mountains. Pharos was killed and so was the Babylonian king. So, God made a straight road for them.
In today’s Gospel Reading from Luke 3:1-6, we meet again this theme of filling up the valley and bringing down the mountain. These imageries, though used in a different time, signified a similar reality. This accounts for Luke opening the text by naming the mountains of the time, Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, his brother Philip, Lysanias, Annas and Caiaphas.
These were men who abused their power and used the tools of fear, intimidation and extortion to keep their subjects in control. While they were up there in power and glory, their subjects were down, in their valley of suppression and agony. It was a sad tale. So, John the Baptist mounted the stage and proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.
Repentance here means a change of mind, a change of perception or better a change of one’s ways. That is, John was calling on his audience not to focus on these mountains erected by their tetrarchs, kings and high priests. But to look forward to the coming of the Messiah. He asked them to give up fear of these persons as it is mountain hindering them from the Messiah.
Now, after they repent of their ways, they will then experience the forgiveness of sin. What sin? The sin of thinking less of themselves. The sin of not trusting God but being afraid of the powers that be. This was the valley they found themselves. They had to fill it up because it was holding them back from being fully the people God called them to be in the Covenant.
Now, when the valleys are filled up and the mountains brought down, what we get is a straight road of recognising what God has done. Thus, we can sing the response to the Psalm’ “the Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy”. This is the joy expressed by Paul in the Second Reading from Philippians 1;4-6,8-11. It is the joy that comes from being set free.
Fr. Francis Afu