During the season of Advent, we await the final judgment, the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But we do not cry out as a group of individuals, each considering their own salvation.
We cry out as a city awaiting the coming of Our Lord, who will save the nations.
In the Book of Isaiah, we hear the voice of the prophet speaking to the scattered remnant after the Babylonian exile. The kingdom of Judah is scattered, destroyed by Babylon. Yet, now the Persians have conquered Babylon. It’s time for Judah to return.
The road back to Jerusalem has been cleared: “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God” (Is 40:3). The road is wide, capable of holding every citizen of Jerusalem.
As the residents of the city return, they once again will become God’s people, guided by the fiery glory of the Lord as in the Book of Exodus. And notice what the prophet hears from God about this glory: “... all people shall see it together” (Is 40:5).
The glory of the Lord is not a private experience for each individual. It is a manifestation that God has chosen this nation, this people, above all others. All the cities of Judah should now come to Jerusalem for the time of salvation is at hand.
In the Gospel of Mark, John the Baptist quotes from the book of Isaiah, proclaiming that the moment of salvation is at hand. It is time to clear the highway, to make way for the revelation of divine glory in the coming of the beloved Son.
John the Baptist accomplishes this highway renovation project through the forgiveness of sins. The baptism of forgiveness provided by John is not just about the individual. After all, it is the whole people of Judah who come for this baptism, transforming the wasteland of a desert into a highway for God.
God’s People, the tribe of Judah, confess that the entire nation of Israel has sinned against the Lord. The nation must be cleansed, must acknowledge its dependence on the Lord of heaven and earth, if they are to see God’s glory made manifest.
The new Israel, the Church, also must come to God together. The Church does not consist of individuals who are all working out their individual salvation alone. Rather, the Church is the gathering of men and women who are being saved as one body in Christ. From the faithful remnant baptized in Christ, every nation is called to see God’s glory made manifest.
The delay in Christ’s Second Coming is linked to this longing that salvation is the destiny of all people: “The Lord does not delay his promise ... but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all come to repentance” (2 Pt 3:9).
During Advent, we cannot simply engage in personal fasts, individual prayer, private and hidden acts of devotion. Rather, we must proclaim to the nations that God’s final judgment is at hand. The Word made flesh, the splendor of the Father, comes once more to bring about a kingdom of self-giving love.
God has delayed this coming because there are still more men and women who need to join us on the highway to see God’s glory.
The final moment of salvation is at hand when each and every nation shall adore the living God. Let us prepare for this moment by gathering every last possible citizen, inviting them into the Church, where they can discover the first rays of dawn of a glory that will one day fill all creation.
A glory that everyone ought to see.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.