“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” (Baruch 5:5).
Baruch is a somewhat obscure figure from the Old Testament from whom we do not often hear in our Church’s liturgy, and so when he does emerge to speak we ought to listen carefully. Today in the Advent season he announces a message of hope, exhorting the people of Jerusalem and Judah to “rise up!” and look ahead to their salvation. At the Easter Vigil, the greatest liturgy of the Church year, Baruch is again proclaimed, telling the Church at that joyful time about how God revealed himself to the people of Israel through the teachings of the Mosaic law and the wisdom which the law conveys.
In this arrangement of readings we see a progression of revelation as God’s plan for redemption begins to unfold and the reader moves from hope to the realization of that hope. This movement is seen in the other mass readings which we hear from Baruch: only two other times in the two year cycle of weekday readings do we hear from him, but in one of those readings a profound acknowledgement of Israel’s infidelity to the Lord is made, and in the other a notice of the coming of God’s salvation is announced.
This pattern of the gradual deepening of the message of salvation and its subsequent implementation is seen in today’s gospel as well, where John the Baptist heralds the coming of the messiah before his ministry actually began: “The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert…A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’…and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:1-6).
While these words were spoken at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry—long after his birth—they nonetheless capture the spirit of Advent when we await the commemoration of the birth of the Christ child. After all, Advent is a time of expectation and anticipation when the entire Church begins a new liturgical year and prepares to experience through the liturgy the events of history by which God brought redemption to Israel and eventually to all the nations.
It should not be surprising that we need such repetition and such a gradually developing acquaintance with God and his plans; after all, this is how we human beings learn and become familiar with practically everyone and everything throughout life. The fact that God adapts his infinite wisdom and benevolence to our limited capacities for comprehension is a beautiful sign of the Lord’s kindness. Through the pages of the scriptures God finds a way of instruction that is suitable for us in much in the same way that a teacher or a parent gently and patiently leads a child to learn how to read. Though the teacher is obviously well-versed in literature he or she does not hesitate to use simple texts and images to offer the child an approachable beginning to the long journey toward a much deeper understanding of the written word.
Baruch and the gospel account of the Baptist remind us of the need to open ourselves step by step to the power of the words of divine revelation, so that we might eventually draw closer to union with the living Word himself. In these days of Advent we look forward to celebrating the moment when the Word became flesh; let us give thanks for the gift of the scriptures through which God leads his children to the fullness of the way, the truth, and the life in Christ.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.