ISAIAH 40:1-5, 9-11. 1 PETER 3:8-14 MARK 1:1-8
“Comfort, give comfort to my people.” These words are as important for us to hear today as they were when they were first spoken more than two and a half millennia ago.
The situation seemed hopeless when the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II, invaded Judah and attacked Jerusalem in 608 BC. The King of Judah was slain during the seige, Jerusalem was destroyed, its temple burned to the ground and the remaining royal family and the prominent people of the city deported to Babylon. They and their descendants remained there until Cyrus, the king of Persia, defeated the Babylonian armies and liberated them in 538 BC. Isaiah’s words of comfort were directed to these exiles.
“Comfort, give comfort to my people…Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated.”
Throughout those seventy years of exile, a small, dedicated group of Jews remained faithful to God and their traditions. Their memory of the temple in Jerusalem was the buoy they clung to – the image that gave them strength and perseverance. Psalm 137 reflects the intensity of their devotion. “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. May my tongue cling to my palate if I do not remember you; if I do not exalt Jerusalem above all my joys.”
It may seem strange at first, but we’re being encouraged to identify with these exiles today. But we actually do this quite frequently. When we recite the rosary, we clearly unite with these exiles when we pray: “To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.”
We carry these sentiments as we look at the Advent crèche. The two stories of the birth of Jesus are brought together in the scene. Matthew’s magi are there ready to offer their symbolic gifts. Luke’s shepherds are there ready to be the first to see the savior king. But in the Advent crèche, though all the figures look longingly at the manger bed, the child is absent from the scene.
The empty manger evokes our deepest hopes and longings. The scene promises us a kingdom so very different from anything humankind has ever known, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom in which all are family caring for one another, a kingdom devoid of killing and violence, of hostility and vengeance, a kingdom in which all life is sacred and joyfully celebrated from the moment of conception to the moment of Passover.
Today we’re invited to join the shepherds and the magi for a moment and to contemplate the empty manger with them. We’re invited to envision the new world Jesus preached. Pray the prayer he taught us. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Hope! Hope for the day “when the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all the people shall see it together.”