In Exile

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: BARUCH 5:1-9

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.

Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you
borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.
For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.
The forests and every fragrant kind of tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;
for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company.


REFLECTION

The passage from Baruch refers to the Babylonian Exile, an event in Israelite history that rivals the Exodus.  During the exile, the people, especially the leaders of the nation, were removed from their homeland and scattered across Babylon. It was a strategy to control a conquered people.  This was a bleak moment for Israel as God’s chosen people were removed from the promised land for which they had long waited.  God’s chosen people no longer had their home.  Baruch says they were, “Led away on foot by their enemies. . .”  A lost people; displaced and uprooted they scrambled to hold onto their identity and find meaning in this tragic experience.  Scholars suggest that throughout the book of Baruch, the author explains the exile as a pattern of sin, death and return/renewal. This is a pattern that leads to spiritual growth in our lives as well. 

While the Babylonian Exile impacted an entire nation, each one of us have moments in our life where we are removed from what is comfortable and familiar.  We experience our own personal exiles.  Some of these moments come from our own choices that force us to redefine our identity or purpose.  While other moments the experience of exile may be completely out of our control such as losing a job.  The closing of Inspirio was one of those moments for me.  Starting in ministry in 1991 I had been involved in Church for 25 years when the retreat center closed.  This caused me to ponder my skills, interests and vocation.  What was once familiar was no longer an option because of circumstance, but also it brought a realization that it was time for change.  Uncertain, scared, broken and feeling like a failure the pursuit of a new life was forced upon me.    

Difficulty in family life is another area where many feel exiled.  Being exiled is having lost the safe place of acceptance and welcome. It is losing our foundation.  Therefore, when there are broken family relationships it cuts to the core of who we are.  The holidays, for many people, are a time of high anxiety and stress, often because of these family issues. In November a friend told me that her immediate family intended to spend Thanksgiving alone.  They made a conscious choice not to see extended family because of difficult relationships.  She asked, “Why spend the holiday with people who just cause stress and anxiety?”  No one is immune from their unique family dynamics.  Those relationships are so foundational that when they go astray it is as though we are wayward and homeless.  It can be a source of pain.  It was sobering to me when my son Andrew said to me, “Dad, how do you get along with your family?  You are so different do they even know who you really are.”  The epitome of exile is being alone, misunderstood and living in a foreign land.  It is especially painful when being with family is a foreign experience.    

While personal exile is being separated from who we are created to be, our community is in exile when we do lose our values.  Our community is in exile when our Church protects pedophiles over children.  We are in exile when we do not have the will to address gun violence; we are in exile when young women are being bought and sold through human trafficking; we are in exile when the inmate is ignored; we are in exile when the homeless do not have a meal or a place to stay on a cold night; we are in exile when those struggling with mental health issues do not have needed resources; we are in exile when we despise someone because of race; we are in exile when we turn our back on the suffering of immigrants; we are in exile when we refuse to protect and value life; we are in exile when we gossip; we are in exile when we betray those close to us; we are in exile when material items are more important to us than relationships; we are in exile when our phones are more important than the person with whom we are dining; we are in exile when we do not care for creation; we are in exile when we use someone else for our own gain; we are in exile when we forget that we have a responsibility to care for one another. 

Fortunately, exile is not the end of the story!  In today’s passage we enter the story as the exile is ending and Jerusalem is set to rejoice and begin anew.  A period of exile can be an opportunity for spiritual growth.  Eventually the Israelites are able to return home, with a new understanding of their purpose and identity. Baruch calls on Jerusalem to,

 

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“take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.”

Regardless of the reason of exile, something new and redemptive can occur.  Going through a divorce was hurtful, but it allowed me the opportunity for a lifelong love and the gift of witnessing the relationship between my son and his step niece and nephew.  Losing my job brought many emotions and self-doubt, but after years of ruminating there is an opportunity for a new life with a new ministry.  Advent is the time for us to see the new life that is budding from the ashes.  It is a time to return home full of hope, rejoicing in the renewal and new opportunity that comes when we discover the liberating impact of God’s grace, forgiveness, mercy and justice. 

Everyone must come out of exile in their own way
— Martin Buber

CONTEMPLATION

  • What has been your experience of exile?

  • How has exile led you to a spiritual rebirth?

  • Emerging from exile can lead to new life. What new life do you need in your own life or do you want to see occur in our society? What are you doing to make it happen?


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Joe Nettesheim is the Founder/Director of 12plus1. He has served as a pastoral minister since 1991. He and his wife Maribeth have a blended family of five kids, three son-in-laws, six grandkids and a Golden Doodle who is a big, loveable oaf.