for Sunday, December 6, 2020
In their worst nightmare, they never thought their lives could get so bad. They really did it to themselves. The people of the first reading were the Chosen People. They celebrated their deliverance from Egypt every Passover. But they still pushed God aside, even out of their lives. They had become wealthy. They thought they had less need for God than ever before. It was almost as though they forgot about Him. Certainly, they were too proud to recognize their own weakness. The nations around them saw them as an important military ally. Full of themselves, they made treaties with the pagans. They worshiped the pagan gods of these nations. They diluted Yahweh's faith and profaned the Holy Land.
Then, everything fell apart. First, the Northern Kingdom, Israel, was defeated and taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Then the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom, Judah. The people were led off into slavery, bound together with hooks in their noses. The Temple and the Holy City were destroyed. They wanted to be like the pagans. Now they were forced to live in a pagan land and serve pagans.
But in their poverty they became rich. They turned from their pagan ways. They embraced their identity as devout followers of Yahweh. They had no power except their faith in the All Powerful One. And they realized that they had more power than they could ever need. God witnessed their conversion. He heard their prayers. He sent His prophet to preach consolation for Israel:
"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to them that their service is at an end, their guilt is expiated. Indeed, they have received double for their sins. But , now a voice cries out in the desert, 'Prepare the way of the Lord.'" God will come with mercy.
Over and over in the history of God's people as well as in our personal histories, the events that led to the Babylonian captivity are repeated. We think that we have it all. We allow evil to creep into our lives. We allow something to destroy us. Actually, we destroy ourselves by relying on our own abilities instead of the Power of God. But then we find ourselves completely alone. Through the Grace of God, through the prayers of others, we come to the Wisdom that we are only alone when we forget about Him who said He would always be with us. We are people of faith. We realize that no matter how bad life might have become, no matter how deep we or someone else may have sunk, there is no depth that God will not descend to in order to pick us up and grasp us to Himself.
All of the saints have a profound sense of the deep mercy of God. All of the saints cry out with their lives, "He is coming with mercy, with forgiveness. Our comfort is in the Lord."
God loves us so much that there is nothing that we might have done which excludes us from His compassion and consolation. We just need to have the humility to seek forgiveness, to let Him into our lives.
What is it that we have done that has been so terrible? Have we destroyed others? Have we taken a life? Have we participated in an abortion? Have we destroyed our own lives? We are tempted to think that our sins are too great or too habitual for God to have compassion on us. Do we feel this way? Do we know others who feel this way? There is nothing that the Lord does not want to forgive. Jesus came to bring forgiveness, to bring mercy, to bring comfort. "Give comfort, comfort to my people," the prophet is instructed.
Sometimes we underestimate God. We think that maybe God can help us a bit, but to get Him to solve our dilemma, well that is asking too much. And to request over and over again that He forgive the same problem, well, that seems to be way beyond the limit of His compassion. We forget that God sets no limits to His Love. Perhaps we think that we do not deserve His mercy and compassion. We are correct there. We do not deserve Him, but that does not mean that He does not give Himself totally for us. Look at the cross. How can I look at the cross, how can you look at the cross and underestimate what our God will do out of Love for me and for you?
"Prepare the way of the Lord," both the prophet of the first reading and John the Baptist in the Gospel proclaim. Prepare the way of the Lord. Help others to realize that they are loved by their God. Yes, sometimes we may bottom out. Sometimes we may crash. But we are never so bad that God wants nothing to do with us. He cried over Jerusalem for its sins. He cries over us for our sins. There is no limit to God's love, to His Mercy. Pope Francis reminds us that the only limit there is to God's mercy is the limit that we put on His Mercy.
In the last century a devout Christian, Helen Lemmel, wrote a very simple little hymn. It is called Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full into his wonderful face.
And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim.
In the light of His Glory and Grace.
In this season of gift giving, we can give a wonderful gift to ourselves and to others. This gift is the reassurance that Jesus loves us and loves them. We need to prepare ourselves and we need to prepare others to turn to Jesus, to trust in the Lord.
"Comfort, give comfort to my people."
Readings of the day:
First Reading: Isaiah 40.1-5, 9-11
Second Reading: 2 Peter 3.8-14
Gospel: Mark 1.1-8
This material is used with permission of its author, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino, Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL. Visit his
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: