Awaiting the end of exile

As we wait in darkness for the coming of our Lord, today's Mass readings remind us of the splendor God is preparing for us.

The author of today's first reading was addressing the defeated people of Israel who had suffered captivity in Babylon since the 580s B.C. Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed in 587, and God's promises seemed to be a meaningless memory. But Baruch wrote of a time when the exile will end and Jerusalem would be restored in splendor.

The glory of God is mentioned numerous times; it is associated with God's power and presence. It was also closely related with the Temple, his dwelling place among the people.

The glory of God was not only associated with returning from exile, but also with the future moment when Israel will live "secure in the glory of God." Understood in the light of the new covenant, this points to the coming of Jesus 2,000 years ago, which established the Church -- the New Israel -- and the future return of Christ Jesus, when the glorious New Jerusalem will be established.

The description of the children of Jerusalem "gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One" also points to the new covenant meant for all people, as Jesus explained in Luke's Gospel (see Lk 13:29). The final part of the reading from Baruch echoes Isaiah 40, which describes the return from exile in 538. And that passage from Isaiah is also quoted in today's Gospel reading.

The responsorial Psalm is a lament, likely sung shortly after the people returned from exile. The emphasis is on sadness turned to joy, crying turned to laughter. Again, it is God who prepares the way, as the refrain states: "The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy." It is always and only God who saves. He asks that we are faithful even during the times of tears and weeping.

This same emphasis on joy and God's faithfulness during times of troubles is evident in the epistle reading, taken from St. Paul's letter to the Christians at Philippi. St. Paul's love for the Philippians is evident throughout his letter, and today's reading is filled with the apostle's obvious concern for them.

This is a poignant reading for Advent because of the strong sense of hope and expectation, as when St. Paul writes "that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus." The goal is holiness, so that the Philippians will be spiritually prepared to meet their Savior.

The "day of Christ" refers to the parousia, his triumphant return. But this same growth of holiness is also oriented toward the many "days of Christ" that come before that final day, especially when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

The Gospel reading also speaks of a "day of Christ" -- when "all flesh shall see the salvation of God," the Incarnate Son of God. The Catechism explains that "with John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit begins the restoration to man of 'the divine likeness,' prefiguring what he would achieve with and in Christ" (No. 720). The cousin of Jesus played a vital role in announcing this reality.

In his book "The Advent of Salvation," the Jesuit scholar Cardinal Jean Daniélou wrote, "Since the coming of Christ goes on forever -- he is always he who is to come in the world and in the Church -- there is always an Advent going on, and this Advent is filled by John the Baptist."

John the Baptist declares that a new exile will soon take place, an exile from the kingdom of sin and despair to the kingdom of God. That exile will require conversion, repentance and the forgiveness of sins -- all essential parts of the season of Advent.

Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.