I realize the analogy between ancient Israel and the modern U.S. is hardly perfect. After all, we are the powerful ones now and are not politically or militarily oppressed. Still, like those Israelites of Baruch's day, we act out of fear, hurling our might at the perceived enemy, shutting our borders, grabbing our families and our goods, holding on for dear life. In Baruch 4, he describes us well. "Let no one rejoice over me, a widow bereaved of many; I was left desolate…God brought a distant nation against them, a nation ruthless and of a strange language, which had no respect for the aged and no pity for a child" (Baruch 4:12,15). ISIS is coming to the streets of our cities; soon we will be like Paris, our houses destroyed, our lanes running with blood! We need to arm ourselves against the foe, say Donald Trump and the NRA! We need to stop the flow of immigrants, those who are "ruthless and speak strange languages," say Greg Abbot and Ken Patrick (governor and lieutenant governor of Texas).
But here is what Baruch says. "Take off the garment of your affliction and sorrow, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the everlasting one" (Baruch 5:1-2). As I tried to say last week in my comments on Jeremiah 33, the key here is that word "righteousness." The Greek word carries much of the force of the Hebrew. When Jesus in his beatitudes urges all to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5:6), he calls us not to hide in our fears, to shun those who differ from us, but to find hope in the glory of the God of all people. Those who hunger for righteousness, he promises, will be filled. Those who hunger for power and false isolated safety will flee empty away.
"For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of God's glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from God" (Baruch 5:9). Advent is not the time for fear, for hiding, for arming oneself against some foe. Advent is the time to open up to the future of God, a future defined by righteousness, by the embrace of the suffering, by aid for the oppressed, by care for those in search of the light of freedom and peace. Again I say: may God's righteousness attend you this Advent and may you continue to resist the fears that bind and haunt and corrupt and diminish us and that separate us from the love and righteousness of our God.