The Everlasting Love of God
Second Sunday of Advent. fr Gregory Pearson tells us how the power of God is revealed in the infant Jesus.
The Holy Land is a place of contrasting landscapes, from fertile coastal plains to mountainous desert, in the midst of which lies the broad valley of the Jordan, flowing out of the Sea of Galilee. If that sounds more like the opening of a tourist brochure than a sermon, then it’s because this variety, this contrast, is something beautiful, something attractive, something which might make people want to go and see this place. It’s why a prophecy that the mountains will be lowered and the valleys filled in needs a bit of explaining, because though it’s certainly an impressive thing, it’s not immediately clear that it’s an improvement.
Indeed, elsewhere in the Scriptures, and especially in the Psalms, the landscape, as part of God’s creation, is seen as giving glory to God the Creator. The hills are called upon to ‘sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord’ (Ps 97 : 8), and, together with ‘fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy winds obeying his command’ to praise the name of the Lord (Ps 148: 9).
It is, though, the very majesty of the mountain heights, the majesty which gives them their beauty, that also gives the key to understanding this prophecy. We have already seen how in the prophecy of Baruch itself, as also elsewhere in the Scriptures, the hills are described as ‘everlasting’. They are a sign of strength and permanence, and for travellers, an obstacle which cannot be removed, but rather is a source of risk and hardship on their journeys.
To say that when God comes, he will flatten mountains and fill in valleys is to speak of the majestic power of God; it is to illustrate how the beauty and glory of God of which the prophet Baruch speaks renders even the awesome beauty of the natural landscape as nothing in comparison. The one hill which remains in Baruch’s vision is that on which Jerusalem, robed with the glory of God, is to stand. To this height all peoples are to be drawn on a path from which all obstacles have been removed.
What a contrast this vision is to the voice of John the Baptist crying in the wilderness who announces its coming fulfilment. What a contrast it is to that scene of a helpless infant lying in a manger which is the focus of the great feast we prepare to celebrate during this Advent season. And yet we know that that helpless infant is the salvation of God which all men shall see, the one in whom this prophecy is fulfilled.
The Christmas story can easily become sentimentalised: the story of the birth of a baby in a stable to a struggling family, shut out of the inn, is a heartening one even for non-believers. Perhaps that’s why, although Easter is the greatest feast of the Christian year, it’s Christmas which has stuck more firmly in the popular imagination. In any case, today’s readings remind us, as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, of the truth of who he is and what he does. They remind us that at the centre of that sweet Nativity tableau lies the Creator of heaven and earth, the one whose power and majesty infinitely excel all we know or could imagine. They remind us that the glory with which Jerusalem is to be adorned is the glory of that child reigning in triumph as he dies on a cross outside its walls, destroying obstacles far more fearsome than the highest of mountains as he overcomes the power of sin and death itself.
In other words, as we reflect on the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament this Advent, and of the promise of their fulfilment in Jesus given by the last and greatest prophet of them all, John the Baptist, we prepare ourselves to hear again the song of the angels on Christmas night. Through the words of the Scriptures and the Church’s liturgy in this season, we try to recall quite what it will mean when we hear it told, ‘unto you is born this day … a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.’
Readings: Baruch 5:1-9|Philippians 1:4-6,8-11|Luke 3:1-6