SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT – B – December 10, 2017

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
A reading from the second Letter of Peter 3:8-14
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 1:1-8

Dear Reader,

For us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, Advent is a season of diminishing light.  The hours of daylight shorten and night threatens to extinguish the light.  Imagine our brothers and sisters who live in the far north where there is 24-hour darkness these months.  The very thought fills me with dread.  I have always craved the light.  As our days shorten, the voice of the Prophet rings out urging us to be faithful, pleading with us to remember the Lord’s promise, a promise supported by past actions in our behalf.

This Advent is not just a season of physical darkness with a waning sun.  Each day’s news puts before us deeds of darkness and we are reminded how inhumane people can be to each other.  Your experience may be similar to mine.  Just when I think I’ve heard the worst, another story comes to top it.  As I write this, a major city has announced that they have had 600 homicides so far this year.  A friend spoke with me this morning about the suicide death of his 15-year-old nephew.  The boy had carefully planned out his death on his computer, including setting the alarm for an early hour as the time for him to kill himself.  No one knows why.  And his parents grieve.  Drive by shootings, domestic violence and killings, racism, sexism, White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis all spew hatred and give rise to violence.

On the world scene, wars rage and innocent people die.  Children perish in the rubble.  And children starve to death and die of cholera as helpless parents look on.

We need to hear the Prophet’s voice so that hope can be roused lest we sink into despair.

Imagine Israel’s plight as Isaiah’s prophecy was voiced.  Their Holy City was destroyed.  They lived in a foreign and pagan land in slavery.  What happened to the Promise?  Where was the God who led their ancestors out of slavery and formed them into a people whose way of life would signal to their neighbors the wonderful and unique relationship that was theirs with their God and God’s with them?  Not only did they have to deal with these imposed horrors, but also they had to suffer the infidelity of some of their brothers and sisters who had taken up pagan ways and worshipped Babylonian idols.

Comfort; give comfort to my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly.  In their condition, the Israelites thought that all that had happened to them became signs of punishment for their sins and signaled abandonment by their God.  After all, the God of the Israelites could be a God of wrath.  But here, through the Prophet, God speaks of mercy, forgiveness, expiation of guilt, and release.

Could there be a tenderer image in all of Scripture than this?  Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.  Imagine how the words would resonate were you in the midst of that suffering borne by that people.  But this is the Living Word of God.  If suffering is part of your present condition, hear these words and be comforted.

From where do we hear the prophetic voice today?  From where do people in suffering find comfort today?  That is the role of Church in the modern world.  If we believe that Church is the People of God, then the responsibility lies with us, each and all of us.  In these troubled times, could that be why Pope Francis is calling for a poorer church serving the needs of the poor?  Is that why he urges the bishops and clergy to shepherd in the midst of the sheep, even to smell like them?  Strange to me the ones who do not want to hear Francis’s message.

In Advent the prophetic message is a reminder to prepare the way of the Lord.  The Lord is coming to make all things right.  The experience of the coming occurs as a result of the deeds of love carried out by the People of God exercising their Baptismal Priesthood.  These actions are the prophetic voice today.  These people of God live lives that can only be explained by faith.  Their compassion rises from the conviction that we are sisters and brothers in the Lord.  The People of God love the little ones, the lowly, those that the rest of society are tempted to ignore lest they have to face their own inadequacies.  They are peacemakers, neither sexists nor racists.  They defend the orphans and the widows and all the vulnerable in society.  They long for the freedom of all people and are willing to lay down their own lives for that cause.  They work for the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Peter reminds us not to be discouraged if adverse conditions should persist for a time.  Time and eternity do not have anything in common.  Hence, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years are as a day in the Lord’s eyes.  Faith convinces us that the Lord is coming to make the new heavens and the new earth transformed by love.  This will happen even if the world as we know it is destroyed by violence or abuse and neglect.  In the midst of whatever conditions and sufferings the People of God must endure, they must be holy in (their) conduct and devotion.  We are to be faithful, loving, and a people who avoid sin.  We watch and wait and believe.

If there is a patron saint of Advent, it is John the Baptizer.  He embodied Isaiah’s prophecy: I send my messenger before you to prepare your way; a herald’s voice in the desert crying, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, clear him a straight path.’  We believe the you in the text is Christ.  John’s role, fulfilled through his preaching and baptizing, is to prepare hearts to receive Christ.

There is a tendency to romanticize Advent.  Already Christmas carols are heard.  Christmas decorations abound.  This year stores were decorated for Christmas just after Halloween.  Songs about the Infant in Bethlehem can make people think that we are awaiting a birth.  No so.  Christmas celebrates the Incarnation, God uniting with humankind, taking on flesh.  We celebrate Christmas and remember.  But we also celebrate Christmas and look forward – to that Day of the Lord when Christ comes in glory to claim the Kingdom for the Father.  We are to be an Advent people by continuing the work of the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord.

The question is, how?  The directives are vague.  Love.  Love God.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Atone for sin.  Forgive.  Accept forgiveness.  Be reconciled.  In practice what does that mean?  Live as Christ’s other self wherever you are, in whatever condition you find yourself.  God will do the rest.  That is why we gather on Sundays to celebrate Eucharist.  We gather as family to be transformed, strengthened and sent to continue preparing the way.

May I share with you an inspiring note I received sometime ago that enfleshes the Advent challenge?

I watched Ben Hur recently, and towards the end, Jesus was truly carrying His cross.  That viewing only reinforced my close affinity to our Lord.  As a child, I wished that I could have been there during that time in history so that I could have helped Him.  Those feelings have not subsided to this day.  It is from that foundation of faith and friendship that I have always felt as if I have been put on earth for a bigger purpose.  Those beliefs were dampened when I was diagnosed with ALS.  I didn’t feel that I could help others with my limited physical abilities.  But in hindsight, I now recognize, from my friends and family, that I am actually helping them to address death in a positive fashion.  I am amazed and humbled to hear them tell me what an inspiration I am to them.  Even a close friend who has been diagnosed with brain cancer has told me he relies on me for my fortitude and stability in the face of dire consequences.  It comes as a surprise to me.  But then I think maybe in a small way I am continuing God’s work, and I am gratified in that realization.  I am fulfilling my hopes; what more could I ask for?

My friend has been delivered of his ALS and is now in the Lord’s embrace in glory.  But I would bet he continues to pray for us still on the way.

Sincerely yours in Christ,



1 comment so far

  1. Jim Battista on

    God bless you Father. Wonderful as always. A very merry (and warm) Christmas to you.
    Love, from the PNW
    Jim n Mira
    P.S. missing the light but feeling the warmth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: