Sunday Sermon for December 6, 2015, the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

Readings: Bar 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-6, 8-11; Lk 3:1-6
In the Gospel reading today we hear about the preaching of St. John the Baptist. However, unlike what we read in the other Gospels, St. Luke does not record the Baptist as saying that He is the voice in the desert calling out to make straight the way of the Lord. Instead, St. Luke simply points to the call and the ministry of the great Forerunner as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. This has some significance for us because is provides a context that is much larger than St. John the Baptist and the time in which he spoke.

We hear the same things spoken of in the first reading where Baruch proclaims that God has commanded the lofty mountains to be made low and the age-old gorges to be filled in. He says that this will happen so that the people of Israel could return to the Holy Land with great glory. When we look at the return of the exiles as well as the circumstances at the time of preaching of St. John the Baptist, we will note that no physical mountains were leveled and no actual valleys were filled in.

This being the case, we have to look for the deeper meaning, the spiritual meaning of the texts. When we consider the exile of the Chosen People, we recall that this was due to the sins of the people and their general straying from God. So the people has already put barriers between themselves and God. When the Lord sent them into exile, there were a few more obstacles placed between them.

When the people were brought back it was only after they had fully repaid the price of their sins. They had removed the problems from their side, and now God was going to remove everything that kept them from Him. Their return to Jerusalem was an historical event; however, it was also a spiritual event. This is made clear in the first reading where Jerusalem is told to put on the cloak of justice that comes from God and to wear the mitre that bears the Name of God. This suggests that Israel is to be a royal priesthood and a holy nation.

If that last sentence sounds familiar, it is because St. Peter applies these words to us. The Church is the new Jerusalem which is to be holy and to exercise the royal and priestly offices she has obtained from her divine Founder. While the Church continues on the path of righteousness, we have to admit that the people who make up the Church have not always been too impressive.

We can certainly take consolation in both the fidelity God has shown to Israel over the centuries, but also in the words of St. Paul which are contained in the second reading: God Who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion. We have put many obstacles in the way between God and ourselves; God seems to have put up a few roadblocks as well. However, He will never abandon His Church nor will He hide Himself completely from those who seek Him with a sincere heart.

The fact that He will allow Himself to be found by those who seek Him does not mean that it will be easy for those who are seeking Him. Not only do we have to remove the mountains we have erected, but God has to fill in the valleys. He has allowed this because of our infidelity. He calls us back to Himself but at this point He requires that we make quite an effort to unite ourselves with Him. This is required because we have to be willing to prove that we really want this union.

After the preaching of the Baptist, God was found in Israel in the flesh by those who could see beyond the externals and recognize God in the person of Jesus. He had removed the things which kept us apart. In our humanness, when something is too easy we tend to ignore it. This is what we have done with Jesus. For this reason He has made things more difficult so that we could prove our love. The day is coming, however, when God is going to intervene and take away the obstacles from both His side and ours. In a manner analogous to what happened two thousand years ago, access to God will be easy for everyone. While we await that day, the words of St. John the baptist continue to call us to make every effort on our part to tear down the mountains we have built. God will put that desire in your heart and, if you cooperate, He will complete what He has begun in you and make straight the way to Himself.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit