Sunday, December 09, 2012


2nd Sunday of Advent (C)
The Power of the Siren

Picture: cc bartb_pt

Sisters and brothers, have you ever witnessed the power of a siren? I myself never really had the experience until some years ago, when I was studying abroad. If I remember correctly, I was walking by the side of a road at the time. And traffic was moving normally at first. Then, suddenly, the sharp scream of a siren pierced the air. And even before I could tell from where the sound was coming, all the vehicles suddenly swerved to the sides of the road and stopped moving. It was only a few moments later that I saw the flashing lights of the emergency vehicle. But, by that time, the ambulance was able to speed past without stopping. Probably rushing to the rescue of someone in need. Using the path that the other motorists had so quickly cleared for it. To me, this was truly an amazing sight. Something that I’ve never seen happen here in Singapore, where people don’t seem to bother too much about rescue vehicles. This was my first experience of the power of the siren.

I mention this because something like a siren is sounding in our Mass readings too. In the gospel, for example, we’re told that the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. And this word has an effect very much like that of a siren. Not only does it motivate the Baptist to devote his whole life to God, the word also prompts him to sound the alarm to others around him. We’re told that, having heard God’s word, John the Baptist begins to tell people to do something very similar to what those motorists did when they heard the siren. He tells them to prepare a way for the Lord. To make his paths straight. But why, we may wonder, is the siren sounding at all? Why do people have to make way for the Lord? What is the Lord coming to do?

The first reading provides a clearer answer to these questions. For here too a siren is sounding. In the gospel, the siren rings out in the proclamation of the Baptist. In the first reading, it resounds in the prophecy of Baruch. And, in both cases, the language is strikingly similar. Both Baruch and John the Baptist call for the clearing of a path. For the paving of a road. For mountains to be levelled. For valleys to be filled in. But there is one important difference in their messages. A significant shift in emphasis. In the gospel, the Baptist tells the people to make a way for the Lord who is coming. In the first reading, on the other hand, Baruch announces to the people that it is God who is coming to make a way for them. As you know, the first reading is set in a time of emergency. The people had been conquered by a foreign power. Sent into exile in a faraway land. But now, finally, the long-awaited siren was sounding. Like a speeding ambulance, God was coming to the people’s rescue. God was paving the way for them to return home. And not just to return home, but to do it in style. Like royal princes carried back in glory.

If we listen closely, then, to the sirens that are sounding in the first reading and in the gospel, we receive both consolation and a call. To those of us who may feel like we are experiencing an emergency of some kind, or exiled in some way from our true homeland, the siren of Baruch proclaims a consoling message of help and of homecoming. This is a message addressed to those of us who, for example, may have suffered a setback of some sort. A failure or a disappointment of some kind. Or those who may continue to struggle to earn a fair wage in a foreign land. Or those who may feel strangely empty, even when their pockets and bank accounts are full of material possessions. Or painfully lonely, even when surrounded by great crowds of people. Or curiously restless, despite juggling many different duties and responsibilities. Whatever our emergency, we can take comfort from the knowledge that the siren is already sounding. Reassuring us. Telling us to have no fear. The Lord is coming to our rescue.

But, in order for us to benefit from God’s help, we must first do all that we can to make way for the Divine Ambulance to reach us. And our Mass readings give us at least two ways by which we can do this. The first is found in the instructions of  Baruch. Take off your dress of sorrow and distress, says the prophet, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever. At first glance, this may sound like nothing more than a demand for a change in appearance. An advertisement for a cosmetic makeover. It seems that we’re simply being asked to exchange our mourning garments for party dress. Our sad faces for joyful ones. Which, as we know, is much easier said than done.

But perhaps more than just a superficial change in appearance, Baruch is inviting us first to a change of focus. We are to stop staring obsessively only at our own problems and hang-ups. Only at the many different things that tend to depress and discourage us. Rather, even in the midst of our difficulties, we are being invited to continue turning our eyes upon the Lord. To keep focusing our attention on the glorious things that God has done and continues to do in our lives. Chief among these being the gift to us of Christ our Saviour. The same gift that we celebrate at this and at every Eucharist.

For it is only by shifting our focus in this way–away from our own wretchedness, and onto God’s glory–that we experience the joy and peace that will enable our appearances to be changed as well. Isn’t this what St. Paul is asking for in the second reading? Paul prays that the Philippians will never stop improving their knowledge and deepening their perception so that they can always recognise what is best. For this will help them to become pure and blameless, and prepare them for the Day of Christ. The day when the Lord comes to their rescue.

And that’s not all. In addition to a change of focus, our readings also invite us to a change in direction. Isn’t this what John the Baptist is preaching in the gospel? A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Like motorists obediently moving aside to make way for an onrushing ambulance, we too are called to swerve away from our own sinful tendencies, so that God might be better able to enter our lives, and lead us to safety. And not just our sins as individuals, but also as a society. We are to turn away, for example, from our tendency to discriminate against people, to treat them unfairly, simply because of their nationality or the colour of their skin. For this is what Advent is all about. Preparing the way for the God who is coming to save us.

Sisters and brothers, on this 2nd Sunday in Advent, what must we do, both as individuals and as a society, to experience the power of the siren today?

2 comments:

  1. Indeed, here in Singapore, some would tend to 'ignore' the sirens of emergency vehicles on our roads and highways - and in so doing, caused emergency rescue operations to be delayed unduly, often at the expense of some innocent lives..because the ambulances or fire engines etc were unable to rush to the site of emergencies on time....

    In our spiritual life, i think it would be 'fatal' if we would deliberately choose to IGNORE the sirens coming from God especially if God were to send more than one siren in more than one mode within a given period of time!

    During Advent, we are invited to STAY AWAKE, to remain ALERT and VIGILANT - to keep close to God and be children of God - to walk in God's LIGHT,LOVE AND WAYS.

    Yet, are we even aware of the dangers lurking around us - as we live in the world of secularism, consumerism, materialism - with so many distractions to draw us away from God?

    Are we aware that we live in a GUTTER OF SIN? if so, do we accept this reality? or do we choose to IGNORE God's Sirens and pretend that all is well?

    Do we need a WAKE UP CALL to shake us out of our complacency and pretence-that-all-is-well?

    Would it not be too late when the wake up call arrives?

    Pax et Bonum

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  2. I think most of us - when got alerted by some sirens, some sounds which we heard from far but could not see it yet, very naturally, there will be an inrush of worries or fear invading into us. For a moment, we may even try to cover our ears or evade, refusing to listen, finding excuses for ourselves. Immense ourselves into our daily routines just to keep occupied. These are signs of retreating not into the arms of God, but into our own nest, which is bad as the next level down will be leaving His Grace.



    We need to be courageous enough to face the people, the society. Never let ourselves tripped over on the road. Even if we do tripped, we must be determined and COURAGEOUS to get up and continue walking.

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