Today’s liturgy is based on hopes, promises, and a call to action. The First Reading invites the people to rise above their current afflictions and strive towards divine glory through a life of integrity. This passage was written for the Jews living abroad as they struggled with the influences of secular pagan culture. The message is valid for us too who live in a post-modern anti-God culture. The prophet Baruch points to a peaceful and prosperous future for the people if they persevere. Thankfully, that future is here with us. In fact, it has been for two thousand years, since God stepped out of eternity into history to become one like us in everything but sin. Jesus Christ is that future, the ultimate promise of God fulfilled.
The prophet Baruch is emphatic that God has commanded the flattening of mountains and the filling of valleys for a smooth and safe passage of the people under the glory of God. This image of flattening mountains and filling valleys comes from an ancient practice whereby a King’s messenger went ahead of him on any trip, to tip off the people of the royal visit so they could fix all the roads that were in bad shape. Today’s Gospel employs this imagery in the work of John the Baptist, the forerunner who came to flatten the mountains of human unfaithfulness and corruption, and to fill in the valleys of human self-centredness, to make way for the coming of Christ. John reaffirms prophet Baruch’s prophecy of a glorious future by declaring that, “all mankind shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 1:6). Our challenge, therefore, is to do all we can to be part of that salvation. We are to do our absolute best, as St Paul states in the Second Reading, to grow in knowledge and understanding, to be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness” (Phil. 1:10, 11).
Dear friends, our God is always faithful even to the extent of letting his own very Son die for our sake. Today, he invites us to be promise keepers too and not just makers. Let this Advent be one of self-examination, to see how well we have kept our own promises. Let the priest check himself and let the people examine themselves. The priest is called to be a man of his word, a man who faithfully keeps the promises made to God before the bishop and the people – to be a man above board, a man of empathy and solicitude for the poor, a man who proclaims the Gospel with conviction. The Religious man or woman is called to faithfully observe their promise to live the Evangelical Counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. A good husband is one who keeps his promises to his wife and children, to always love, cherish and protect them, and even be ready to lay down his life for them. A good wife is one who keeps her own promises to her family, friends and neighbours, to be a woman of faith and a homebuilder, not a gossip builder. Every young person is called to keep their promises to their parents, teachers, friends and colleagues, to be good and responsible citizens who will mature over time and eventually take over the reins of the family, Church and society. We all are called to be promise keepers.
Consequently, let us resolve to keep our promise of fidelity to Christ and his commandments. Let us obey him today as we level all the mountains and fill in the valleys of our everyday lives. The mountains signify our sins of commission. If we like to gossip and spread criticism, revealing other people’s weaknesses for no just cause, we need to tear down that mountain. If we are leading a double life, indulging in hidden sins or lies while presenting a façade of holiness to the world, we need to level that mountain. If we are in the habit of looking down on others, be it our family members, friends or colleagues, like they were inferior beings, perhaps on account of our higher intellectual achievements or bigger bank account, we need to flatten that mountain. If we are spending too much time on the internet or social media, at the expense of our work, family or prayer life, that’s huge mountain that needs levelling. When our relationship with anyone becomes an obstacle – preventing us or the other person from being the best parent possible, the best spouse possible, the best boss possible, or even the best priest possible, we need to re-evaluate that relationship – the mountain needs to go.
Conversely, the valleys signify our sins of omission, the things we should be doing but are not. If we cannot make out some time each day in prayer with God, that’s a valley we need to fill in. If we are too busy to pray, then we are indeed too busy, and something needs to happen there. If we are not spending quality time with our family, no matter our work commitments, that’s a big valley that needs to be filled. If we are not going regularly to confession to rejuvenate our souls with God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness, that’s a valley we need to fill. If we like to turn a blind eye when things go wrong around us, whether due to indifference, sloth, or political correctness, that is a valley we need to fill up. Let everyone do a bit of introspection to see what mountains and valleys are begging for our attention.
As we resolve to flatten every mountain and fill every valley in our lives, may the Father of mercies forgive us for the times we have failed, and grace us with fresh energy for renewal. Amen!