“I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right andjust in the land.” With these words, the prophet Jeremiah is announcingto God’s conquered and scattered people, the advent of righteousnessand justice. In scripture, righteousness and justice are almostsynonymous. They are two words referring to a single idea: the idea of aright relationship with God. Because they turned away from God, thechosen people had to endure exile in Babylon. There they learned thatwithout God, they were nothing, and could do nothing. Jeremiah broughtthem the good news that their future could still be assured, if only theywould embrace righteousness and justice. In other words, if only theywould get right with God.
As Christians we recognize that Jesus Christ is the ‘shoot of David’whose advent Jeremiah proclaimed. The challenge that Jeremiah placedbefore the ancient people of God, is put to us by Christ. He calls us toput aside our selfish, misguided pre-occupations, and embrace arelationship with God that is just and proper and true. Butcharacteristically, Christ doesn’t just set us a task. He does the job forus. Justice is primarily God’s work, before it is our work. God has put usright with God through Jesus Christ.
Love for each other is the best proof of our commitment to do allthat is right and just. Thus St. Paul’s wish for the Thessalonians holdstrue for us too: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love forone another and for all.” As Catholics, our love for one another ismanifested in, and enhanced by, a deeply satisfying pattern of life, rootedin the teaching of the Church. The sacraments of confession andcommunion make life livable, bearable, even at the darkest moments,because this is where we experience the loving and consoling presence ofJesus himself. The sacraments enable us to stand up straight and raiseour heads, confident that Christ is near at hand. Our prayer, as acommunity, and when we are alone with God, helps us make sense ofthings, even the most perplexing things, and deepens our feeling for God,and our trust.
All over the world, on this First Sunday of Advent, candidates forbaptism are being invited to bear the gentle yoke of Christ. Ourexperience is that without that yoke we are nothing and can do nothing.
It acts for us like a gyroscope, or like the long pole carried by a tightropewalker. It helps us keep balanced, and oriented toward God, who is ourdestination. Because we claim the saving power of God’s justice in ourlives, we must bring the power of God’s justice to others by our wordsand deeds. Aware of our own fallibility and sinfulness, we neverthelessshare our tradition with others; not with condescension, but with humility,because it is the most precious thing we possess.
St. Paul prayed, “May the Lord increase you.” Today we areincreased, as countless new people formally start their journey of faithwith us. I say ‘formally,’ because informally it has already begun. They’vemade their own inquiries and contacts; their instruction is well under way.They already have a sense of Jesus keeping them company, guiding theirsteps and their minds. But today the Church says, “Welcome. It’s nice tohave you.” We hope their journey will lead them to Easter night, and fullcommunion with us in the Faith. Today we embrace them as companionson the way. Like us, they want to be right with God, and in the words ofour Gospel, “to stand secure before the Son of Man.”
Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”