Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
2 Peter 3:8-14
Old Testament prophets often met with resistance because people didn't like their calls to repentance. It's possible that some of those who first heard Isaiah's words in today's first reading resisted for the opposite reason. They may not have liked his message of consolation.
About 40 years earlier, the Israelites' last stronghold, Jerusalem, had been conquered and destroyed. The victors hauled the residents off to Babylon (in present-day Iraq). They weren't held as slaves but were given land to farm. They settled down. Some went into business.
Now, when most of the original exiles had passed from the scene and a born-in-Babylon generation had taken their place, a prophet arose declaring that God was going to "comfort" his people. They were going to return to Jerusalem.
"Return?" some of them must have said. "Jerusalem is where our grandparents were from. We live here now – and here we intend to stay."
Others may have huffed, "The God who didn't prevent our total defeat is all of a sudden wanting to help us? Give me a break!"
The prophet was announcing that God was moving on to the next stage of his plans for the people. On his own initiative, he told them, God had forgiven their sins. And he was going to show his love for them by restoring their life in the land he meant them to live in.
But this would involve wrenching changes. The Israelites in Babylon would "return" to a land they had never known. Family properties would have to be reclaimed, a city rebuilt. Were they willing to buy into this divine plan?
God hasn't stopped unfolding unexpected plans for the human race. From time to time, we are confronted with his surprising offers to help us "return" to a better life. They challenge us, as they challenged the Israelites in Babylon.
An unplanned pregnancy (will we welcome this child?). A glimpse of someone in a moment of pain (will I act on my feeling of compassion?). A directive to leave the novitiate (will I go back into lay life with hope?). A marriage counselor's insight into my hurtful behavior (will I have the humility to change?). An unexpected diagnosis (will I trust God in this illness?). An opportunity to mend a broken relationship (will I acknowledge my responsibility?).
When the surprise comes, will you accept God's challenging comfort?
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the "Six Weeks With the Bible" series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.