Opening the Word: Hope still reigns

In the midst of the domestic and international violence that occupies much of the news at the present moment, it has become difficult to exercise that daring virtue of hope. We look into a world grown weary through an endless cycle of destruction. We gaze with horror upon the nation that eliminates the life of the unborn, dehumanizes the immigrant and grows weary of the elderly. We may be tempted, in the midst of this spectacle of violence, to give up on the project of Christian hope altogether, embracing an indifference to the world around us. 

Yet, throughout the season of Advent, we are invited to once again envision a world where hope still reigns. The prophet Baruch addresses the city of Jerusalem, still in exile in Babylon.

He exhorts Jerusalem to take off her cloak of mourning and wear anew the royal attire that manifests to all the world the glory of God’s own name. The children of Jerusalem, led out in violence by Babylon, will now come back to dwell in the city of Zion. The trip itself will be an easy one since the roads and mountains will be turned into a superhighway. And the city itself, once captive to sin and death, will now dwell in justice and peace. No wonder the psalmist can proclaim, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy” (126:3).

The fullness of Baruch’s promise comes about through John the Baptist’s proclamation of the kingdom. In the midst of the reign of Rome over Jerusalem, in the kingship of unjust Herod, God’s Word acts again in history. John announces to those gathered in the desert that God’s definitive judgment of the world has begun. One must convert — that is, to change one’s entire outlook upon the world — and to accept a baptism of repentance. John’s proclamation is the beginning of the return of all the nations to Israel. This time, it will not simply be the citizens of Jerusalem returning home from their captivity but “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Lk 3:6).

John’s preaching is thus an extension of God’s hope for men and women to leave behind the violence of sin and death and return anew to the peace of God’s kingdom. Each year, during the whole of the season of Advent, we audaciously await the fulfillment of John’s prophecy. We run forth to greet the coming of our risen Savior Jesus Christ through the Eucharist, through practices of mercy, through praying in silence before the Lord of heaven and earth. And we, too, invite others to join us within the Church on this pilgrimage toward the heavenly Jerusalem.

In the end, the season of Advent is not a time to be dispirited about the wounds of sin and death that still infect humanity. Instead, we are to exercise that prophetic virtue of hope. To long for God to act anew in this weary world of ours. This weary world that we have created through our habit of hopelessness. We must proclaim with John the Baptist the advent of the kingdom of peace through our very presence within the world.

The work of Advent is to let ourselves be converted, to put on those garments of justice and peace that will be a marvel to all the nations. Then we, like the prophet Isaiah, might cry out, “Yes, people of Zion, dwelling in Jerusalem, you shall no longer weep ... The Lord will make his glorious voice heard” (Is 30:19, 30).

Today's readings here.

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.