A World Weary of Suffering
“Here is your God!” These words of the first reading, attributed to a prophet called the second (or Deutero)-Isaiah, are words of hope for a disheartened people. The Israelites, although freed from slavery under the Egyptians, now find themselves exiles in what is called the “Babylonian captivity.” The Babylonians had destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and exiled most of the Hebrews who were beginning to despair of ever returning to their homeland. The prophet is a scribe for Israel’s God communicating words of comfort and hope.
A popular idea at the time was to attribute hardship and misfortune as punishment for sin. While the prophet does not directly challenge a connection between sin and suffering, he presents the people with a far more profound message of the assurance of God’s victory over evil, as well as the offer of divine mercy and forgiveness. Such a God is not only “coming with power” but also “like a shepherd feeding his flock, holding the lambs in his arms.”
What is also clear in these verses is that God does not act alone nor impose the divine will without respect for human freedom. Rather, messengers will be sent, signs will be given, so that all people are invited to see that Israel’s God is not simply the God of the Hebrews, but the God of all the earth and every people. The most powerful of God’s messengers is John the Baptist, calling people to repent their sins and open their hearts to see in Jesus Christ the Messiah.
We may almost call 2020 our own ‘Year of Captivity’ in wake of the physical, mental, economic and spiritual challenges brought by such confronting experiences as bushfires and the coronavirus. There is always the temptation to despair forgetting that, despite human ineptitude, stupidity and sinfulness, creation is still God’s world and we are still God’s people. Our task is not to “give in” but to “act out” a new way of living, focusing on the infinite mercy of God, the dignity of every human person, and the sacredness of the earth.
If bushfires and the pandemic have anything to teach us, it is surely that our human plans are often confronted by new and unexpected challenges. Pope Francis’ powerful encyclical Laudato Si’ [On Care for Our Common Home] reminds us that “everything is interconnected.” We need to take very seriously human responsibility for global warming and environmental destruction—and to change our ways accordingly. And we also need to place our faith and trust in God.
Advent is a time of both prophecy and promise. The prophet—whether Deutero-Isaiah or John the Baptist—calls us to repent and change our ways. The promise—“Here is your God!”—calms our fears and answers our deepest hopes for a world wearied of suffering.
Gerard Hall SM
© Majellan Media 2020