Let us Turn to the East

A Reflection for 2nd Sunday of Advent (Year C).
Baruch 5:1-9 – Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11 – Luke 3:1-6.

“The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.” That is RSV translation of the response to today’s responsorial psalm, “What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad.” God has been so good to us in the past, and He continues to be so now. His love for us is boundless – endless – and in His eternal love for us He gave us His only Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, whose First Coming we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas.

As we are going about making serious preparations for the Coming of Christ, today’s word of God in the 1st Reading calls upon us to remove the cloak of sorrow and distress and in its place to put on of the glory of God (v.1). We are called to the removal of the cloak of sin and to the putting-on of righteousness; to the bringing low of every mountainous obstacle that prevents us from seeing ahead into the glory of God awaiting us, and to the levelling-out of every gulf and valley that hinders our path to meeting God (v.7). We are called to prepare a way for the Lord (Gospel v.5) in our lives.

Just because the nature of our preparations is serious, it is not appropriate to adopt a serious look as we tackle them. Rather, we are called to look on the bright side at what is happening within us as our preparations progress. The 1st reading referred to this bright side as ‘turning to the East’: Arise Jerusalem, stand on the heights and turn your eyes to the East (v.5).

Let’s unpack this a bit. The act of turning to the East involves our turning to face the direction of the rising sun, the primary source of the light of the world. It means looking towards Jesus who is the Light of the world (Jn 8:12), looking towards Him with hope and trust in the hour of darkness, knowing that His light will shine in our lives. He is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2); that’s why we begin the year looking towards Him and why we end the year doing the same. In Jesus, we are guaranteed the freshness and renewal of our souls like waking up in the morning refreshed after a good night’s sleep. In Jesus, whose star rises for us in the East (Mt 2:2), we are absolutely assured of hope and peace.

So, how are we setting about preparing ourselves for this brightening experience of the coming of Christ the rising sun (cf. Mal 4:2)? St John’s instruction in today’s Gospel reading can be of help to us. We need to identify what obstacles and barriers need to be removed from our hearts so that we can see God, and we need to identify what mountains and valleys need to be evened up and levelled so that we can meet God without hindrance. We need to level out the mountains of hatred, pride, jealousy, envy, anger, gossip, intolerance and inconsideration in our hearts. We need to fill in the valleys of our negligence of right action, our omission of the good things that we could and should have done which create hollows in us, our neglect of love and care for our families, friends and neighbours due to our selfishness, besides our many missed opportunities to serve God and our neighbour. If we find the prospect overwhelming (and who doesn’t?), let us make a conscious decision (a) to look on the bright side about what we are being called to do because it’s for God, (b) take a deep breath and (c) take our courage in both hands and Go For It.

Whenever wintry conditions are incoming, we start to pile on the layers of clothing. Wearing several layers rather than one heavyweight garment is the secret to keeping warm, isn’t it? In the 2nd reading, St Paul advises us to pile on the layers of love for each other, to build up layer upon layer of our knowledge and discernment of God (Phil 1:9) so that you can always recognise what is best. Another way of putting it is so that you may approve what is excellent (RSV). Why bother? So that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (v.10)! St Paul’s reasoning is that when you know more and more about how to apply love effectively in the context of your daily life, you will end up properly prepared for Jesus’ Second Coming.

The real joy of Christmas is to be found in those who have prepared themselves properly to celebrate His First Coming. That Christmastide bliss is reserved to those who have successfully levelled out the spiritual obstacles blocking their path, and who have successfully filled in and crossed the gulf of sloth (the failure to do things that they ought to do). Through their preparations, they have grown in the imitation of Christ through the practice of love, kindness and generosity to God and all His Creation. Be like them! They are those to whom God gives the name Peace through Integrity (1R v.4). Peace be with you.