Sunday, December 6, 2015

Breaking Through

   Second Sunday of Advent   C 
Geography quiz!
What separates England from France and the rest of mainland Europe?
The English Channel.
It’s only about 20 miles wide at it narrowest point,
but it has a reputation for frequently being rather rough
and for always being unpredictable—
so much so geologists say that, in prehistoric times,
it kept humans from occupying what is now Great Britain
for more than 100,000 years.

In more recent history,
many means have been used to get across this forbidding crossing.
On the water, there have been sailboats and steamships;
over the water, hot air balloons and airplanes;
and for those who don’t mind being in the water—
in a whole lot of cold water—
a few have even been known to swim from one shore to the other!
All these attempts at passage can be easily foiled by the weather:
by wind, or waves, or fog, or the tides.
The weather in the English Channel was a decisive factor
when the British navy defeated the Spanish armada in 1588,
and in the Allies’ hard-won victory in Normandy in 1944.

But a literal breakthrough in getting across the English Channel
occurred 25 years ago when, after two years of digging,
French and English workmen met each other in a new tunnel beneath it
on December 1, 1990.
Today, more than 20 million people (and a many, many tons of freight) 
cross the Channel each year by going under it—
no matter what the weather.

A long and seemingly impassable separation
had been overcome.

This Sunday, St. Luke lists the names of those
reigning in the halls of power,
and even the acknowledged religious leaders serving in the temple…
…but it’s to none of these that the word of God comes.
It comes, instead, to one in the desert—
a prophet like Baruch and Isaiah before him—
crying out in the wilderness.

When the ancient prophets speak of or from the desert,
they’re speaking to a people who have been invaded and defeated,
captured and led off into exile. 
The prophets pull no punches and make it perfectly clear
that Israel was exiled because of her disobedience.
While it’s a vast desert that separates her
from Jerusalem and the rest of her homeland,
it’s the wasteland of sin that has separated her from God.

So when Baruch or Isaiah preach about straightening the path,
filling in the ruts, or smoothing out the rugged places,
they’re not talking about actual road construction;
the landscape they’re describing is that of the human soul.
Whether your preferred metaphor
is a path across the sea or a highway through the desert,
it comes down to the same reality:
what is needed is repentance—
to turn, to change direction,
to find our way back home to God again.

Baruch is addressing a people surrounded by a culture
whose values and beliefs are quite foreign to their own.
(Sound familiar?)
He warns them not to give in to their neighbors’ idolatry.
Even though they’ve been unfaithful in the past,
God always remains faithful.
Hope is firm for those who put their future in the Lord’s hands.

This desert—not of sand but of sin—can seem nearly impassable.
And when looking across it, it can even feel
like God just may have abandoned them.
But God hasn’t.  He can’t.  God doesn’t forget.
As Scripture echoes time and again:
His mercy endures forever (cf. Ps 136).
Yet while God, in his love, can never abandon us,
he also will never force himself upon us.
Patiently, he waits for us to take that first step,
to pick up that shovel ready to dig through.
Now, that’s not because God is expecting us
to walk or to tunnel the whole way on our own.
In fact, we don’t even have to meet him halfway.
The Lord is the one who bridges the gap—the only one who can—
and the God who begins such a good work in us
will no doubt continue to complete it.

Every Advent, the Church holds up before us
the prophets of the Old Testament
and John the Baptist in the New
because Advent is a season of preparation,
a call for repentance, a time to wait upon God’s mercy.
And what’s unique to the Christian faith
is that God’s mercy is so much more
than just one of his many personality traits;
his mercy is personal—his mercy is a Person:
the Divine Mercy who once quietly came to us in Bethlehem;
the Divine Mercy who still comes to us mystically
in his living Word and the sacraments;
the Divine Mercy who will come again in majesty
that all flesh might see the salvation of God.

This Advent in particular is a time to celebrate the mercy
which overcomes the separation between heaven and earth,
as on Tuesday we begin an extraordinary Jubilee Year—
the Year of Mercy—called for by Pope Francis.
Marking this grace-filled moment,
our parish will have 40 hours of Eucharistic adoration,
starting after Mass today,
a full day of confessions tomorrow,
and—please pray for good weather!—
a Eucharistic procession on Tuesday evening.
Don’t let this opportunity pass you by!

No sea is too rough, no desert too barren,
no soul too hardened by sin
to keep us separated from the God who is Love and Mercy itself.
If you but open the door of your heart to him,
God will most certainly break through.

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