There are two colossal events in Jewish history that fill many of the pages of the Old Testament.
The first occurred in around 1200 BC: the exodus from Egypt, when the children of Israel escaped from slavery, wandered throughout the desert for forty years and finally entered the Promised Land.
The second seminal event occurred in around 600 BC: the tragic fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian invaders, the long forty years of exile in Babylon (near present day Bagdad in Iraq) and the eventual return to Jerusalem, a city that needed to be rebuilt.
These two events are much embellished in the way they are recounted by various sacred authors. They are searing events in the memory of the Jewish people.
The second of those events, the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, is captured in our first reading. The prophet Baruch, writing long after the event itself, personifies Jerusalem as a mother longing for the return of her once lost children. The obstacles that stood in the way of their return —a life threatening desert, the absence of a path to follow, the disarray of the people—all this had to be overcome to bring the return to reality and to realize the joy of overcoming adversity. These emotions are expressed in today’s responsorial psalm.
The New Testament authors latched onto this Old Testament experience and applied it to our own return from spiritual exile through the coming of Christ. We revisit these sentiments each Advent season. The gospel writers saw in the figure of John the Baptist the herald that would prepare the way for Christ to lead us home through the desert. We will see how Luke in his gospel puts this imagery to work to prepare us to receive the grace of Christ.
—Walter Modrys SJ
This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.