Today’s readings continue along the Advent theme of waiting in hope with restoration soon to follow. The first reader of this text would surely have felt the hopeful promise. This particular section of Isaiah begins the second book (chapters 40-55). The exiles still await their freedom to travel home to Jerusalem. “I the Lord who grasp your right hand” v. 1, surely Israel felt grasped by the hand of the Babylonian empire. The prophet uses words like worm and maggot, not such pleasant visuals for the chosen people. Can he be making the point that even the lowest creatures are in God’s care and not forgotten in their misery—in the direst of situations—he is there.
How does this translate today and in this Advent Season of waiting in joyful hope? So many of our brothers and sisters are displaced, homeless, sick, isolated. As we get swept up in the Christmas preparations, we can easily lose sight of the plight of others. What does this first reading have to say to you, today?
I wonder, in fact, if we largely feel helpless to the problems of our society. Yet, these words are written exactly to bring hope into a troubled, broken world.
Yesterday, as I was second in line at an office supply store, the person being served was experiencing difficulties with his purchase and it was taking quite some time. I could feel the stress of the customer and the checker. The store brought out some new checkers and invited the next customer to approach. The customer who was in front of me simply turned and offered me the spot. I thanked him for his kindness. When I was finished my transaction, I again turned to thank him, he simply smiled and said, “we all need patience this time of year” and he wished me a “Merry Christmas.”
And I understood the next part of the reading—I will make of you a threshing sledge, ….to thresh the mountains and crush them..” The invitation for us today and everyday is to become that tool that God can use. We CAN crush the mountains of despair, of doubt and of suffering because our God is with us. We crush those mountains every time we are kind—it’s that simple. Perhaps I cannot solve the problems of the world, but I can make my corner of the world a kinder place. We can turn the desert into a marshland.
The old custom of winnowing—separating the seed of wheat from the chaff –was only possible when the West wind blew. Apparently, the North wind was too strong and would blow everything away and the East wind came in gusts which was not helpful. This process required a waiting until the West wind blew and I find this fascinating; so much of what is important in life requires waiting for the right conditions.
John the Baptist was aware and preached that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, he saw the signs. He is known as the hinge prophet; the one who bridges the old to the new. And, while there has been none greater than John, he is least in the Kingdom of heaven; perhaps the message the Scriptures invite us to hear is that humility is the gift needed to bring about the Kingdom of heaven. May we wait in joyful hope and be inspired to bless our world today. Amen.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.