2 Advent: Baruch 5:1-9; Canticle 16 (Luke 1:68-79); Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
Advent is a time of waiting, and waiting for change. But the readings today focus more on the change. In Baruch, we are called to “Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.” The image is concrete: we need to be dressed to celebrate. Baruch tells Jerusalem to rejoice that God has remembered them. “For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.” What a promise: that God will smooth the ground to make your way safe! Luke refers back to that promise at the end of today’s gospel, seeking to create continuity between Jesus and the salvation history of Israel.
In the gospel, we also hear about John, preaching “a baptism of repentance”. Yesterday I read an essay by Professor Brittney Cooper, a Black feminist scholar, on repentance. It was part of a series in The Christian Century on “how I changed my mind”, and the title was “Why I came back around to repentance“. Cooper suggests that we should think of repentance not as cataloguing and confessing sins big and small, but changing our minds, as we get rid of ideas that separate us from God. “What if”, she asks, “at base, our faith practices were about a willingness to change our minds in ways that allowed us to bend more easily toward love, justice, mercy, and grace?”
The season of Advent is a season of waiting for change. We think of the change as the birth of Jesus. John preached a baptism of repentance. I have always understood sin as that which separates us from God, and repentance as bringing us back to God. If we understand this as a season of changing our minds, it moves our focus to how we, as a community of Christians, can collectively let go of ideas and actions that harm us and others, and follow God in trying to make “the crooked straight, and the rough ways smooth”. When we do that, we will be on the road to justice and love. And we will be ready to welcome Jesus into our lives.