Today’s lessons build beautifully upon those of last week. The theme for the First Sunday of Advent was “Great Hope in the Day of Fear.” The lessons presented an image of the earth convulsed with fear and foreboding and catastrophic shifting of well-known and familiar ground, in the context of which was encouragement for the faithful.
Moving on to the theme of today’s lessons, we notice only the barest of references to tribulation as we find ourselves immersed in descriptions of splendor, beauty, deliverance from evil, restoration of immeasurable loss, and reversal of incalculable grief. Where last week’s lessons demonstrated even the cosmos itself showing evidence of coming judgment, in two of our lessons this week, the earth cooperates in the deliverance of God’s people.
Both Baruch and Luke present the well-known image of the mountains and hills being made low and the valleys lifted up, to make the homecoming of the people of God easy and pleasant. Even the trees give shade. All this is at the command of God.
Baruch was scribe to Jeremiah, who prophesied in the time of immense suffering and heinous national sin that took place in an age of smug rebellion against God, and which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah ‘s heart breaking ministry led eventually to the lamentations over the ruin of the city of God by her enemies. And yet it is Baruch, who presumably was Jeremiah’s companion in that appalling time, whose name is on the exultant prophecy in today’s first lesson.
Even the lesson from Philippians matches today’s theme, if we recall that it was in that city that Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and thrust into prison. In that setting they converted the jailer as the finale to a successful time of preaching the gospel. The Philippian Christians were dear to Paul’s heart, as today’s selection shows.
The introduction of John the Baptist’s ministry in Luke is likewise rich with exultation. The call to repentance is manifestly not a wallowing in recrimination and recounting of past evil and sin, but the conferring of a long-promised and long-awaited deliverance.
John’s manifestation is firmly dated with the recitation of the names of seven leaders of both Roman and Judean influence. During a time of political upheaval and oppression, John was being prepared “in the wilderness” until the hour of his vocation came. For three decades within the tense Roman occupation of Judah, he was unrecognized as the one who would fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah.
Look it Up
How does today’s psalm match the theme of today’s readings?
Think About It
Do times of great tribulation — personal, ecclesial , national, or worldwide — invariably lead to great blessing?