Creating communities Bar 5:1-9; Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Phil 1:4-6, 8-11; Lk 3:1-6 More than one powerful motif swirls through the readings for this Second Sunday of Advent. The first reading is from Baruch, a biblical book seldom quoted. It takes the form of a letter written to encourage Jews scattered by the Babylonian exile. The author points to Jerusalem, the center point of Jewish hopes, and encourages the exiles to trust that God will bring them back home. People downtrodden and defeated in the eyes of their enemies, “are remembered by God. Led away on foot by their enemies they left you; but God will bring them back to you borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.” The response taken from Psalm 126 also evokes the notion of God’s people coming home after bitter exile: “Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing. Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.” Longing for home — for a place of lasting and sure peace — is something embedded deep within the human heart. One thinks of all the millions of people today who are displaced, longing for a homeland, for a place of security. The season of Advent is meant to stir up this deep longing in our hearts — not just for a home here and now, but for an ultimate place of rest and vibrant love that our faith hopes for. St. Augustine’s often-repeated words come to mind again: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The Gospel selection from Luke also stretches our horizon and reminds us that God’s salvation — the Christian message of God’s forgiving love — is meant not just for Christians, not just for those who belong to the church, but for the world. The segment we hear today marks the beginning of John the Baptist’s mission. Luke characteristically situates this beginning of the Gospel drama in relation to the historical setting of the Roman Empire and the surrounding political circumstances. We hear of Pontius Pilate ruling in Judea, and the sons of Herod controlling the Galilee region. Cited, too, are the reigning high priests Annas and Caiaphas, who will ultimately be involved in the condemnation of Jesus. Luke’s intent is not simply to footnote the historical context of the Baptist’s mission but to alert the reader to the worldwide sweep of the Gospel. Luke appends a quotation from the prophet Isaiah that concludes with the phrase: “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” This is precisely what Luke’s Gospel and his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, will illustrate. The message of God’s redeeming love that is rooted in the history of Israel and comes to full force in the mission of Jesus himself, will be brought to the nations by the Spirit-driven work of the Apostles and their expanding mission beyond Israel to the world. Here, too, is an Advent message for us, particularly at a time when the church is absorbed in very serious internal crises of its own: the appalling sin of clerical sex abuse, the diminishing participation of the young, the grieving over the closing and consolidation of parishes. These are wounds that need to be attended to and healed. But, at the same time, we cannot lose sight of the compelling worldwide mission of the church, to bring the message of salvation and hope “to all flesh.” In the midst of these great themes, the tender words of Paul to his beloved community of Philippi add a human touch. The Macedonian city of Philippi was the first community Paul evangelized in Europe (see the wonderful account of Paul’s encounter with Lydia in Acts 16) and, as he says, they formed a “partnership for the Gospel” with him, supporting him and holding him in their love. He, in turn, loved them: “God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” The Christian message of worldwide salvation is not a matter of abstract dogma, but of creating communities of mutual love and support.