Did any of you watch the funeral this week of George Herbert Walker Bush, our 41st president? I only saw a few snapshots on the news, but it seemed a very fitting send off for someone who, by all accounts, was a good and principled man.
The news coverage made many mentions of President Bush’s letters. He was apparently a gracious and prolific letter writer, sending notes to people, famous and not, sharing his thoughts, congratulations or condolences. Many people commented that it was so meaningful to know that they were remembered by the president.
Today’s first reading from the prophet Baruch gives the chosen people hope that God will lead exiled Israel home in joy by the light of his glory. Jerusalem is not to be cast down in mourning but to witness to the power and radiance of God. She is to clothe herself in the glory of God and proclaim that God is with her forever. In this beautiful vision of the future, the people ‘rejoice that they are remembered by God’.
“Prepare the way of the Lord” is something we hear a lot during the Advent season. It is an invitation to get ready to welcome the Lord. In the Gospel reading today from St. Luke, John the Baptist tells how this is to be done by echoing the prophets – valleys are to be filled in, mountains and hills laid low, winding ways straightened and rough roads made smooth.
John the Baptist preached ‘the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’ He appeared in the wilderness to give the wakeup call. He was a blazing personality and proclaimed to all who came to listen to him at the Jordan River that they needed to repent to be able to experience salvation. The Jews of that time wondered if God had forgotten them. It had been hundreds of years since the last prophet, and the Romans had conquered Israel. Gentiles and pagans surrounded them. Where was God in all this? With the baptism of repentance, John the Baptist opened their eyes to see the Lord who had come to give them salvation and give them hope. He opened their eyes to the fact that God remembers them.
Do you know someone who wonders where God is and if he even remembers them? Are you yourself in that state even as you hear these words? Do you feel abandoned? Does God seem to have forgotten you?
Perhaps you have been through a time of trials with your health or that of your loved ones. Or you grive a loss- loss of a friend, a marriage, or a job. Whatever the reason your desperation, pain or grief may be exacerbated by the joyous lights and songs of Advent and Christmas.
Maybe you just do not feel close to God anymore, as you want to. You are not alone. The lives of the saints show us that many of them felt abandoned or alone at some point in their lives.
Desperation and intense desire are not necessarily bad things, when they lead us to God. Today, if you feel alone and abandoned, it may be because God is asking you to hear the message of John the Baptist-the message about the salvation of God. As a matter of fact whatever your state in life, whatever your circumstances, whether you feel alone and abandoned or not, listen to the Baptist.
The words of today’s scriptures have power and speak as much to our day as to the Israelite people. In some senses, we too are in exile on earth – our final home is heaven. Advent is a time to set our sights on the day when the Lord comes to take us to the eternal city – Heavenly Jerusalem, our eternal destiny. We rejoice not because our problems, pain, or desperation is no more, but because this season reminds us that God remembers us. God who sent his Son into our world, not with power and majesty but as a tiny embryo in the womb of Mary his mother. A child would be born and live among us suffering and living every aspect of human life, life and death, except for sin. These are words of hope. These are words of life.
This advent, listen to the message of the Baptist. Repent of your sin and repent of your distance from God. Nature will be turned inside out, flattening valleys and hills to make it easier for you and your God to meet.
Our divine guarantee that God remembers us is renewed and made effective in every Eucharist where Jesus repeatedly pours His Spirit into our souls and assures of His continued abiding presence with us in life and in death. Put on the splendor of glory from God forever! You are remembered by God.