Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.
Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you
borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.
For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.
The forests and every fragrant kind of tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;
for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company..
Brothers and sisters:
I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you,
because of your partnership for the gospel
from the first day until now.
I am confident of this,
that the one who began a good work in you
will continue to complete it
until the day of Christ Jesus.
God is my witness,
how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
“When things get better, I’ll make my move.”
Ever say that or something similar under your breath? It’s certainly a valid excuse for not doing what the risen Jesus asks us to do. “This just isn’t the right platform. There’re too many grey areas in my life. I’ve got good intentions, but this isn’t the time and place to carry them out. God knows I have dreams for a better world in my heart. Eventually I’ll carry through on them, but in the meantime . . ..”
Perhaps these justifications for our inaction are why Luke begins his gospel with today’s historical overview of the historical Jesus’ day and age. Why did God choose this particular time and place in which to send his/her son into the world? They certainly weren’t ideal. In some sense, they were just like any other time and place. They had their good points and their bad points. Galilee was just as significant as Illinois; Herod and Caiaphas as any of our political and religious leaders today. John the Baptizer and Jesus of Nazareth had no choice but to play the hands they were dealt. Neither could set up ideal conditions in advance. Long before anyone created poster art, both learned to grow where they were planted. Had they waited for a better time and place, God’s will would never have been accomplished.
They’re not the first followers of God to experience similar, challenging situations. Baruch, who seems to have worked with the prophet Jeremiah, lived in a world that was falling apart. His mentor had finally reached a point in which he was convinced Yahweh’s Chosen People were incapable of reform. His only hope was for an enemy to wipe them out, drag the remnant of the people into exile and start their faith experience over again. Only this time they’d better not screw things up.
Baruch has no choice but to prophesy against this “iffy” background. He’s not even certain Israel will continue to exist for more than a few years. Yet the prophet is convinced Yahweh will eventually take care of the people even though both Jerusalem’s present and immediate future isn’t very promising. Baruch has terrific faith in an imperfect history. He doesn’t have any other history in which he’s involved.
Reflecting on the importance of our historical context, perhaps the most helpful of today’s readings is our Philippians pericope. Paul is convinced the specific day and age in which he and his community are involved is actually an ongoing process. Their experiences are constantly evolving. “I am confident,” he writes, “that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” One thing is certain: “Your love (will) increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception to discern what is of value . . ..” Eventually “things” will become clearer, though at the present moment I’m still wondering what I’m doing here.
We, like John the Baptizer, have no control over when the word of God comes to us. We’re simply expected to recognize and use it the way he/she expects us to. The historical John seems to have been a member of the Dead Sea scroll community, ministering in a place that has less than an inch of rain a year, preaching to someone who not only doesn’t want to hear him, but eventually has him killed.
The late Cardinal John Wright once asked us North American College students, “What would you do if you’re the best preacher in the diocese and your bishop assigns you as chaplain to an institution for the hearing impaired?” Certainly, wouldn’t be the first time only God knows what I’m doing here.