We continue to look forward to the return of Jesus in glory.
Baruch 5:1-9 — the first reading, promises a return of the exiles to Jerusalem, which is mourning their loss. The exile was ignominious, but the return will be glorious, with obstacles of the terrain removed for an easy passage. The glory of Jerusalem will be manifest to the whole world.
As Christians, we understand this passage, and similar ones — notably Isaiah 52:1, 49:22, 61:10, 62:3, 49:22, and 40:3 — as having their ultimate fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem of Revelation 21, to which we hope to be gathered. Some ancient writers see the mitre displaying the glory of the eternal name as referring to the cross of Jesus. Baruch’s expectation may have been that Israel’s glory would be manifest to the world, but we see an expanded sense in which all nations are called to join God’s people and share on the glory of the returnees.
Psalm 126 places on our lips and in our hearts the joy of the people God has rescued.
In the second reading — Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11 — Paul has the “day of Christ Jesus,” that is the day of his return, in mind. God has begun the good work of our salvation. It remains to be completed but Paul is confident. He prays that the Philippians — and we — will continue to grow in love and knowledge so we can live good lives, such as will complete the good work of our salvation.
The gospel — Luke 3:1-5 — tells of the beginning of the work of John the Baptist, placing it in the 15th year of the reign of the emperor Tiberius. Tiberius’ reign began in the year 14 A.D. so the events of this passage are dated in 28 or 29, which is consistent with the governorship of Pontius Pilate (26-36) and the high priesthood of Caiaphas (18-36). Luke sees John’s ministry as fulfilling the words of Isaiah 40:3-5 (which find an echo in our reading from Baruch, as noted above.
People need to repent, to turn away from their sins so as to receive the forgiveness God offers. At the time John began preaching and baptizing, Jesus had been born, so this is not in preparation for his birth. But Jesus hadn’t yet begun his public ministry: John is preparing the people for the Lord to appear as their savior in his public ministry.
As we await the final appearance of Jesus bringing the fullness of redemption, the call to repentance and conversion is addressed to us as it was to the people of John’s time.