The importance of context
Dec. 9, Second Sunday of Advent
Baruch 5: 1-9; Psalm 126, R. “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy”; Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11; Luke 3: 1-6
Our Gospel for this Second Sunday of Advent opens with the setting of historical markers, to establish the context of the ministry of John the Baptist, who in turn was to establish the coming of the Messiah.
Today let us reflect on the importance of context—the time, the place, the situation, the background or history, etc.—in our life, which is always a key element in our encounter with God.
Ignatius of Loyola gave wise counsel to the early Jesuits with regard to their ministry. He advised them that if one wishes to influence or form others, one must enter the other person’s door and take him out from that door.
The context of the advice is the Jesuits’ ministries in spiritual direction, preaching, etc. Again, it’s showing the importance of context; otherwise, the same advice can be used for both altruistic and self-serving ends.
The greatest example of this is Christ himself who, in the mystery of the incarnation, empties himself of his divinity and enters our human situation. Through his being God-with-us, Emmanuel, he is able to show us the path to divinity.
As the words of the absolution in the Sacrament of Confession put it, “God the Father of mercies has reconciled us unto himself through the life, ministry, passion, death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ...” Christ is the way, he who entered our human condition, and world has given us the path.
In the call of his disciples, Christ does the same thing. He enters the context of the person. He gets into Peter’s boat, convinces him with a large catch of fish, and commissions him in an image close to Peter: “From nowI will make you a fisher of men.”
Entering the context of others is basic to service. And like Christ, it is not a deus ex machina service, but an emptying of the self to allow us to see our shared humanity with others, and the freedom to choose our path.
It is with this recognition of our shared humanity that we are able to establish a genuine community of solidarity; a community that we can call sacred space where we are free to be authentic because we have the freedom to choose to be so, “to thine own self be true,” and to choose to be more, our call to be magnanimous in love and service.
A question I am often asked is, how does one know God’s mission, what God wants you to do? God works in patterns, not in random, arbitrary acts. Our story, our narrative, our context is the best way to see and to understand what God wants us to do.
Remembering is reconnecting us to our story and restores us to a sense of wholeness. Taking ownership is exercising our freedom to be collaborators of God’s plan and what he wants us to do to make our world better and our lives meaningful.
John the Baptist’s call in today’s Gospel is a beautiful call to freedom, a freedom to choose to collaborate, beginning with a personal choice to repent, and moving on to the choice to be in the service of God’s Kingdom, the New Creation in Christ.
“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.”
This is the call to collaborate with God’s plan. It gives us the freedom to choose to make the most out of our life and our world.
This makes Christ’s coming as God with us, which we celebrate every Christmas, one that changed the course of the whole of creation.
This is our Christian Hope that inspires our life to make this world better, a community of shared humanity, which makes up our context, and to which Christ will come again.