Second Sunday of Advent
The day after the horrible killing of 14 innocent people in California there was a newspaper headline that stated: “God is not fixing this.” The headline was in response to some people who responded to the tragedy with references to prayer. Some interpreted the headline as a mockery of God and prayer. So I read the actual article to see what the headline writers were really saying. They weren’t mocking God or prayer, in general. It was actually a politically pointed message about some who were offering prayer, but not, according to the author, doing enough to help reduce the possibility of such tragedies.
While not an indictment against God and prayer, it does raise the question as to what one expects from prayer in the face of tragedy or in any case.
With regard to the power of prayer, I do believe that God can intervene in the world and our lives in any way He wishes. And He doesn’t need us to tell Him what needs to be fixed. But we have a rich legacy of prayer and the command and example to calling out to God, in need or otherwise. It runs through the Old Testament. It was affirmed by Jesus, most poignantly in giving us the Lord’s prayer. And our second reading today from St. Paul reminds us of his constant prayer for those to whom he ministered. So without completely understanding the how of prayer, prayer is always an expression of trust and faith in the God who tells us to pray. And we don’t know exactly how God uses our prayer in the dynamic of His spiritual outreach to His people.
I frequently remind people that the most important object of our prayer is the enrichment and the working of our relationship with God. Every prayer in need is a statement of our limitations and our recognition of the greater power of God. It is a statement of faith that God matters and somehow if anyone who is suffering can be awakened to that by one’s prayerful wishes that is great. And authentic prayer, prayer that really believes in and trusts in the presence and effectiveness of God will be open and listening for and even expecting God to touch the one who prays with some consolation or inspiration to do something that would help fix things.
Our first reading from the prophet Baruch is a prophetic description of a completely fixed world. The words are addressed to God’s people in the midst of the destruction of their city, their temple, their life as a people. We see these descriptions in a two-fold manner. With their reference to glory and unity they describe the eventual perfection of heaven. They also refer to of the coming of the Messiah who would initiate in a profound way greater movement of God’s people toward that state of perfection. Those who come to know and believe in the Messiah Jesus Christ will participate in the earthly anticipation of heavenly perfection and begin to experience its joy.
The first reading included a reference to mountains being made low and depths and gorges being filled. Similar references are found in other Messianic prophecies, such as the one from Isaiah quoted by St. John the Baptist in the Gospel. That prophecy and St. John’s preaching do point to the work of those who receive the message. It is the people of God who are to fix things, to fill valleys and lower mountains. And John further relates this work to repentance for the forgiveness of sins. There is some personal fixing that must take place to prepare for the Messiah Jesus. In repenting and seeking forgiveness for sin we help fix the path between ourselves and Jesus. And thus we are able to help others approach Jesus as well.
This divine-human partnership is dramatically expressed in the Incarnation that we are preparing to celebrate in a special way at Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth. To restore the lost relationship between God and His people He did not choose to reach out and spiritually zap and fix every one of us individually. He took on human flesh. He walked among us. He preached a message. Eventually He suffered and died, but rose to affirm the fruitfulness of His sacrifice. And He set into motion the process by which He would continue to reach out to fix the world in an incarnate way, through human flesh. It is the human flesh of the Church. It is the human flesh of each one of us reborn in Jesus Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.
So in this Advent season, as we prepare to celebrate God’s coming among us, first as a newborn child, we should heed the message of John the Baptist. We should review our own life, to see what forgiveness we need, what changes we can make so as to smooth the pathway between God and each one of us. Then we can better incarnate the love of God through our own prayerful efforts to fix things.
Returning to the issue that prompted the provocative headline, the issue of violence. There is certainly a need for fixing. It is a need that Bible tells us goes back to Cain and Abel as described in Genesis. Dealing with the particular act of terrorism in California last week has its own challenges, but there are a number of elements that come to play as people choose to harm human life through violence. And so there are a number of areas where people can choose to help fix things. There are issues of mental health procedures, criminal justice and incarceration, the gathering of personal information, access to weapons and the fundamental moral education that seeks to affirm the dignity and sanctity of every human life as made in God’s image. There is no shorter of avenues to work to fix things, to make them better.
Many efforts involve activity within the civic and political arena. And in these various areas there is disagreement about what to do or not do. So fixing will involve honest, patient and respectful communication. There will be need for sacrifice and compromise. One rarely gets exactly what they want all the time exactly in the way they want it. In the political arena compromise takes humility and courage. And in these God can be a great help.
Indeed it may seem overwhelming. It is like this old house that I am gradually fixing to prepare for my eventual retirement. The family built it in segments over 40 years. Sometimes when I am in my chapel, looking around, I am distracted as I begin to think about jobs and strategies. Is that a distraction or is God working with me on the fix? I often have to revise my plans as one thing or another doesn’t work so well. If I sat down and calculated all the things I need to do to fix the house, there may not be time to get it done. But I have to keep doing something. And each little fix bears its own particular fruit.
In every seemingly impossible task, we have to do something. And we are wise to invite God along to give us wisdom and courage.