Summary: We will ask God to “teach us to judge wisely the things of earth, and hold firm to the things of heaven.”
Second Sunday of Advent 2018
Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord
You may have been a bit surprised when you stood for the Introit today to find that we did not sing “O Come, Emmanuel,” which has become the musical heart of the whole Advent season. There is a good reason for that, which I’ll explain momentarily. But for now, let’s focus on the central figure of the second Sunday of Advent–John the Baptist, or Jesus’s older cousin.
When we sing the words “On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry announces that the Lord is nigh,” at best we think about the coming festival of Christ’s birth. That’s OK, but that’s not what we should focus our attention on today. Things are crooked in our life and in our world. So we also sing “Then cleansed be every life from sin: make straight the way for God within.” The Lord wants to raise the level of every valley, every depression, every low point in our lives by filling them with His Holy Spirit. He wants to straighten our paths that so often veer into self-centered directions. In other words, God is calling each of us to reform our lives.
So let’s go back to the beginnings, something that is pretty easy for those who came to Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. That’s because our first reading that day was from Genesis–the beginning of human relationships with God. God made us in His own image, with the capability of being His adopted sons and daughters, of sharing in His own divine life. We were tempted by the architect of evil to think we could seize that divine identity, to become gods in our own image, and we failed. Not just Adam and Eve failed. No, all of us have sinned willfully in our lives at some point, maybe even recently. But God promised our first parents a New Adam, and thus a New Eve–Jesus and Mary–to restore the life of God in our spirits, souls and bodies. He did that at the very beginning, and then worked for thousands of years to prepare us for the coming of His Son.
God first prepared a community, a people into which His Son would be born. They were descendants of Abraham, whom we call our “father in faith.” Abraham was a sinner like us, but when God called him from his home, he listened and followed. When God called him even to sacrifice his only son, he prepared to do so, showing his faithfulness to God. And so God promised him that he would raise up descendants in the hundreds of thousands to become a people like Abraham, a people of faithful following of God’s Law. He brought them out of captivity and entrusted them with the land of Palestine.
But despite leaders like Moses and David and all the prophets, that people were fatally flawed with self-concern, with advancing their own pleasure and comfort and wealth at the expense of their neighbors. They abandoned the worship of the true God for the more sensual experiences of the false gods of their neighbors. So God allowed the Babylonians to destroy their city and their Temple and drag most of them off to captivity. The prophet Baruch, with his mentor, Jeremiah, went with another exile community to Egypt, where he tried to instill hope in his fellow Jews. He told the miserable Jews of Egypt to imagine a day, a promised day, when Jerusalem would again be filled with faithful God-fearing people, enthroned in glory. Like Isaiah, he vowed in the name of God that the “high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.”
So here we see, hundreds of years later, a humble man “wearing clothes of camel's hair, living on locusts and wild honey,” appeared in the Judean wilderness. He “proclaims baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin, and says another will come after him who will not baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit.” He calls some of his listeners a “brood of vipers” and even calls politicians to repentance. That’s something humans need to hear in every age.
The plain fact is this: we are constantly tempted to take care of our own needs and desires before anything else. I have a car that’s three years old and it has a couple of dings in it, it’s out of warranty and the carpet is getting worn. I listen to or watch a commercial for the new models of this and that on TV, radio or Internet–it’s impossible to avoid them–and gradually begin to want a change. If I dwell on the difference between my car and that ideal car enough, the want becomes a need. Next thing I know, I’m bargaining for a car that I have convinced myself is the most important thing in my life.