By Janice and Gerry Vanderhaar

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 | 2 Peter 3:8-14 | Mark 1:1-8


“What we await are new heavens and a new earth where…the just of God will reside.” (2 Peter 3:13)

“Make ready the way…clear a straight path.” (Mark 1:2)

George Frederic Handel opened his stirring Messiah with Isaiah’s words, “Comfort my people,” from today’s Scripture. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem… Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God.'”

Today, John the Baptist announces the astounding news that the Messiah has arrived. Here, in Jesus, is our God. Now we know where to look. Now, for all time, we have God’s comforting Word, God’s tender response to an ailing humanity.

This Word guides us as we are renewed in the Spirit, as we become more alive. When we enter into the reality of the Word become human, we will experience the Word in other human beings. We will realize in our heart of hearts the truth that Vatican II spoke: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these, too, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”

Now, like John the Baptist, we are to announce the good news to all the earth. God is calling us to be messengers of the Word. We are to be fearless witnesses of Jesus’ nonviolent love in the desolate wilderness of our times. We are to announce the coming of new heavens and a new earth. We are to prepare the way, pave the road. Fill in the low places, level off the high ones. Bring the message of hope to those who are low, remind the high ones where their true destiny lies. Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable! Our words of tenderness will comfort those who suffer. Our words of justice will disturb those who profit by unjust systems.

Pax Christi Rwanda spoke words of justice when they said in an Advent message in 1995 (following the genocide there): “We cry aloud to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, that poor people are savagely exploited and mercilessly oppressed. We denounce the shameful accumulation of wealth and power by those who treat the poor in contempt.”

In the new heavens and the new earth, 2 Peter assures us, God’s justice will reside. “The heavens will vanish with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire.” The roar will be Pentecost’s creative wind. The wind will be the Spirit’s cleansing energy.

Gandhi is said to have advised Nehru at the beginning of India’s independence: “When you consider passing a law, think of the poorest person in the poorest village. If the law will help that person, pass it. If not, don’t.” Applying this test in our decisions today will keep us in the course of “justice rolling down like waters, righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). We will be helping to bring in the new heavens and the new earth.

This reflection is from The Word Becomes Human so that We Might Become Fully Alive: Advent and Christmas Season 1996, by Janice and Gerry Vanderhaar. This year’s booklet by Diane Lopez Hughes is still available and can be ordered online here. Janice and Gerry (who passed in 2006) are Pax Christi USA Ambassadors of Peace. Janice is well-known for her work on nonviolence and leadership in Pax Christi Memphis. Gerry taught at Christian Brothers College in Memphis and is the author of many books, including Personal Nonviolence: A Practical Spirituality for Peacemakers.

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