Monday, 7 December 2009

2nd Sunday of Advent Year C

The 1st Reading is deeply sacramental. Look at how the 3 great monotheistic religions that claim common ancestry from Abraham—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—are engaged in the contestation, at times violent, for the patch of plateaux, mountains, hills and valleys called Jerusalem. The Prophet Baruch describes how the Exiled will be brought back to Jerusalem, the city of God; the place where God’s peace can be found. The etymology of its name connotes “completeness, wholeness and soundness”. Jerusalem was to be the radiating heart of the world of completeness and wholeness. Perhaps, you can discern why this constant desire to return to this city explains the sacramental character of the 1st Reading. Jerusalem is the outward sign of God’s presence in the world.

John the Baptist, in the Gospel today, cries out, “Prepare the way for the Lord and make straight His paths”. In light of the sacramental character of the 1st Reading, the place where God’s peace or wholeness is to be found is now translated into a person: the Prince of Peace. Jesus is the person where wholeness is to be located. In short, in Him, all mankind shall see the salvation of God.

In order to see God’s salvation, we must want it or we must need it. The theme this Sunday is the “Joy of Salvation”. In a world which is seemingly perfect because of our capability, it is not easy to discern how we can ever be saved or why we even need it in the first place. Since we function along the principle of efficient self-management, it is hard to comprehend the joy that comes with salvation. Thus, God cannot save if we do not need Him. And if we do not realise that we need God’s salvation, since we are made for God, the simple result is that there will always be emptiness in our hearts.

A way in which the principle of efficient self-management is worked out is a form of spiritual pride. Some of us fail to see it that way but there are times when we believe that God cannot love us because of our imperfections and our sins. You know how often we punish ourselves by thinking such? This is borne out by the reluctance to go for confessions and for good reason. People ask earnestly: “Why go for confessions when I am going to sin again?” [1] Confession, in essence, is the acknowledgement that we need God’s salvation but, for many of us, the basis for confession shows that we do not really need God. How so? For many of us, confession makes sense only if one does not sin or one is incapable of sin. And so the reason goes that “I will only go for confession if I am assured that I will not sin again. But since I cannot assure God that I will not sin again, I shall neither waste my time nor God’s time by going for confessions”. You can see that intention is good but the reasoning is spurious. If that is not spiritual pride, I don’t know what is.

Here, let me be clear that I am not making a pitch for confessions or the necessity of it. I am merely trying to explain why the apprehension concerning confession masks the spiritual pride of a generation that believes salvation is the fruit not of God’s doing but its own machination. We can manufacture our salvation. This does sound like the tagline from The Six Million Dollar Man: Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. Translated: We can rebuild ourselves without God. Does this not remind you of communism? Communism was an attempt to save mankind from itself and it tries to do it without reference to God. But, sadly, a world without God is joyless.

However, salvation brings joy or if you like, the appreciation that salvation is near brings joy. The 2nd Reading radiates the joy of the salvation which Christ brings. If you read further, you will find the context of Paul’s joy is that he writes to the Philippians even though he is in prison. Paul is in prison and yet he can still write. This is how the joy of salvation is brought home to us. For Paul to encourage the Philippians even though he is in prison shows an appreciation that no time is ever out of the scope of salvation. It is an optimism which is founded on no less than the person of Christ. In Him, all mankind shall see the salvation of God. It is the only reason why Paul can exhort the Corinthians (2 Cor 4:8ff): "We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted, but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed; always, wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus". The nearness of salvation gives us the sure hope of joy.

We live in troubled times, do we not? As The Star report states on 4th Dec that more than 304,358 people seemed to think so last year as they left the country. The Herald may have won a reprieve in the use of the word Allah but will judges who dare to stand up for judicial independence be subjugated by "routine administrative processes"? Will our need for greater transparency in governance be stymied by vested interest of a few? The depressing and disappointing list goes on.

But, we dare to labour joyfully knowing that it will not be in vain because salvation has not only been promised to us; salvation is much closer than we think. Advent’s wait is a reminder that the joy of salvation is a distinct possibility for those who embrace Christ. Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low, winding ways will be straightened and rough roads made smooth because only in Christ shall mankind come to know the fullness of salvation. Advent is ever pregnant with joy.

[1] Sometimes the contrary is true. It is not the fact that one will sin again that makes us reluctant to go for confession. Sometimes we feel that our sin is so big that we feel ourselves hopeless. We are in effect saying that God’s mercy is not big enough for our sins; God is not bigger than our sins.