06 December, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent (C) - Turn your eyes to the east


Baruch 5:1-9
‘The name God gives you will be,
‘Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.’
Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights
and turn your eyes to the east.’ (Baruch 5:4-5)
The Prophet Baruch - Congonhas (Brazil)
The prophet Baruch spoke these words to a people caught up in the aftermath of war, still struggling with the consequences of having been deported or having become refugees. He spoke addressing Jerusalem with words of hope. In these words the holy city represents the gathering of God’s faithful people and Baruch says to her that one day the Lord will bring back to the safety of her walls all her scattered children, and on that day there will be great rejoicing; so much so that the city herself – along with her inhabitants – will be given a new name; ‘Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.’
As I said last week, we the Church, the community of the faithful, are, here on earth, the New Jerusalem which will find fulfilment in heaven. So this prophecy, although spoken long ago, holds meaning for us as well, but what could this meaning be? The invitation to turn our eyes to the east we hear could make us a little uncomfortable. Over the last weeks people have often turned their eyes to the east indeed, but not in hope of seeing the first glimpse of God’s coming glory; rather they have done so dreading the calamity of war spreading like wildfire in the Middle East – Surely, how can we turn our eyes to the east awaiting God’s glory to appear, when so many in those regions are being displaced, hounded out of their homes, caught between bombardments on one side and black flags of homicidal hate on the other? How can we follow our reading, turning our eyes to the east in hope?

Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights
and turn your eyes to the east.’
I do not think that Baruch just wants us to cast our eyes lazily in a certain direction, waiting half-heartedly for something to happen. There is more to our reading than this. The prophet doesn’t just say “look east”; he tells us to ‘Arise’ and then to ‘stand on the heights’ – I don’t know when the last time you’ve been hiking was, but standing upon the heights of a mountain takes a lot of hard work… Arise; stand; look. These commands imply that we have to do something while we wait for God’s glory to appear; in fact, we ought to do everything in our power to pursue the name God is going to give us; ‘Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness’, or as other translations put it ‘the peace through justice, and the glory of worshipping God’.

So let us have a quick look at these two names. The first one, ‘Peace through integrity’ means that lasting peace, will come from pursuing truth and in a sense also equity. Peace won’t come by pursuing war, but it will come to us in the form of justice and righteousness. So, turning our eyes to the east means reorienting our way of life towards Jesus and his way of life, it means looking at him who comes in to the world to be our righteousness, our integrity, and our model of justice.

The second name, ‘honour through devotedness’ means that any worthwhile distinction or glory we might achieve in this life will come to us from knowing and worshipping – in other words, from being devoted to – the only true God. So, turning our eyes to the east means reorienting our way of life towards Jesus who comes to reveal us the fullness of God, so that we may know and worship him alone.
Eastward facing celebration of the Mass
About this point, I should also say the way in which we do and engage with worship is the way in which we make present this future glory here and now. The beauty of our church liturgy and the observance of religious practices are the way in which we can experience and foreshadow ‘glory through devotedness’ is this life. So, turning our eyes to the east may mean physically to turn facing east in our worship as the Church has done for millennia before us, but more importantly, looking to the east means reorienting the way we worship and the way we do religion, shifting the focus from indulging ourselves to adoring the one true God who comes to us in the humble Child of Bethlehem and who will come one day in splendour to demand the worship of all creation. 

Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights
and turn your eyes to the east.’
Arise. Stand. Look. The instructions we hear this morning tell us to reorient ourselves towards the coming glory of God; they encourage us to turn around, to reshape, to drastically change the way we live so that we may begin to possess now the promises God has in store for us, so that we may begin now to be called ‘Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.’

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