Book of Baruch 5:1-9.
Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: Wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name. For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship. Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children Gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God. Led away on foot by their enemies they left you: but God will bring them back to you borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones. For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, And that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God. The forests and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God’s command; For God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.
When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
We were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with rejoicing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
We are glad indeed.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
Like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears
Shall reap rejoicing.
Although they go forth weeping,
Carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
Carrying their sheaves.
Letter to the Philippians 1:4-6.8-11.
Praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 3:1-6.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. He went throughout (the) whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” (All of the readings for today are taken from The New American Bible, revised edition)
From a commentary on Psalm 118 by St. Ambrose
How abundant is the grace of the Church, how great the rewards of a living faith! Since these invite us, let us forestall the rising sun to greet Christ, the Sun of justice, before he can say: See, here I am. He both wants and expects us to be there before him.
You can hear Christ’s desire and expectation expressed in his words to the angel of the church of Pergamum: Repent, or I will soon come to you, and to the angel of Laodicea: Be zealous and repent. See, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him. He will have no difficulty in entering; no barrier of closed doors was able to shut out his body after he had risen from the dead. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he was present in the room where the Apostles were gathered. He had already tested the Apostles; he wants now to test your zeal and devotion. In time of persecution he may take the initiative; where all is tranquil, he wants you to be ready and waiting for him.
Be on the watch before the sun is visible in the sky. Awake, sleeper, and rise from the dead, so that Christ may shine on you. If you are vigilant you will receive Christ’s light before sunrise. Before daybreak he will shine into the depth of your heart. Even as you say: My spirit watches for you in the night, Christ will make the light of morning illuminate your nocturnal meditation on the word of God. As you meditate, light will dawn. Seeing the light – not of the day but of grace – you will exclaim: Your commandments are my light! When day finds you meditating on God’s word and the pleasant task of prayer and psalmody delights your mind, you will once more say to the Lord Jesus: You fill both morning and evening with joy.
In obedience to their master Moses, the Jewish people have the sacred Scripture recited continuously, night and day, by elders appointed for this purpose. Ask an elder about anything else and you will find this is his only skill: to recite the Scriptures in sequence. With the Jewish elders there is no worldly conversation: Scripture alone is their occupation; voice follows voice in turn so that the holy sound of God’s commandments knows no holiday. How then can you, a Christian, with Christ as your master, take your sleep without fear of having it said to you: This people does not even honour me with its lips. The Jewish people do so, but you do not. What a length of time you are sunk in sleep, in secular affairs, in the cares of this life, in things of earth! At least divide your time between God and the world. When you cannot carry out the business of this world in public and are hindered from pursuing it by the darkness of night, give time to God, give yourself to prayer. To keep yourself from dropping off to sleep, recite a psalm, cheat sleep with holy guile. In the morning hurry off to church, offer the first fruits of your prayers, and after that, if the world and its needs call you, you will be able to say: My eyes are watchful in the morning, to meditate on your words. Then you can attend to your affairs with a serene mind. (St. Ambrose, Sermo 19, 30-32 (CSEL 63, 437-439), from Word in Season 1)
My “lectio” of the readings and saintly counsel for today lead me to take seriously the question of expectations in relationship to hope or, perhaps, hopelessness. In this regard, for example, St. Paul says, in the context of a situation that reveals the importance of expectations, “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4.13-14) So, expectations are important. They govern my perceptions and actions. I remember having a conversation recently about expectations using the good old question, “Is the glass half empty or half full?” What is my default starting place with regard to the future?
I notice several things with regard to expectations in the readings and reflection from one of the saints for today. The best way to read/reflect your way through my realizations that follow is to reread the passages and saintly reflection after each of the four points I make to allow each to find a deeper home in your soul.
First, if the glass is half empty, what I expect is a downward spiral – “its only going to get worse and hope is foolish.” I live a hunkered down life – survivalist. If the glass is half empty, I not only camp out in wait of what is coming, I journey out beyond to greet it with joy, knowing it is approaching. For the optimist — the hoping one — even the measurement of “half” is not really relevant because the provision is infinite. So, what does “half” mean?!! It is the pessimist who believes the “measurement” is appropriate.
Second, there is a difference between expectancy and expectations. These attitudes are often the fruit of optimism and pessimism. (Please know that I am not using the term optimism to mean a utopian idealism or sentimental wishful thinking. An optimist in my usage here presupposes a realistic attitude toward life that is fuelled by faith.) Expectancy is open-handed yearning for the provision of a good and loving God who knows how to give good gifts to those who ask (James 1.17; Matthew 7.7-8, 11). It is the fruit of the “half full” frame of reference. Expectations are more closed and grasping. If I am looking to the future with expectations, I have already made up my mind about what a good and loving God should do if He is good and loving – “And He had better get it right. If He doesn’t then we know who to blame!” Expectations are the fruit of pessimism.
Third, in my experience, unless I have become is simply passive (“a bump on a log” so to speak), both the pessimist (without hope in this world) and the Christian optimist (with a heart filled with the confidence that the will and purpose of God will prevail unto our joy and that of the whole universe) I make preparations for what I believe is about to happen, for good or for evil. So, expectations and expectancy are characterized by a certain “readiness.” The stories that Jesus tells are filled with this characteristic (wedding garments, wicks trimmed, building houses on rock instead of sand, etc.). What I expect if I am REALLY expecting anything at all reaches out from the future into the present and changes how I live here and now. That reaching out from the future either engenders patience, liberality, and persevrerance or impatience, greed, and capriciousness. The change the future I might be dreading or for which I am yearning is, therefore, transformative for better or for worse. In that sense, hell and heaven begin right here and now.
Finally, it all has to do with love and fear. If I live in fear the glass is half empty and I am governed by expectations and judgement. If I live in love the glass is half full and I am governed by a teachable spirit that is open and filled with expectancy that God is a “good and loving God” and has “already overcome the world.” My attitude of expectancy, hope, generosity, and loving gift-giving is the fruit of my confident conviction in a God who comes to fulfil every promise and intention He has revealed.
The question, “Well, what do you expect?” is a multifaceted one. It is an appropriate Advent/Christmas question. It is not difficult to answer if we are willing to take a good honest look at the shape of the “now” we are living. For me, the fruit of that honest “examen” is the opportunity to be conformed more fully into the likeness of Christ Jesus.
For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.