Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO
2nd Sunday of Advent
There is life after politics. Now that most of the country outside the universities has gotten over the recent election, the universal Church invites us to make a spiritual journey to Easter, guided by the prayer of the Church and the companionship of Christ. Our spiritual life is one of friendship with Christ, and in the second reading this morning, St Paul writes about the quality most needed as we begin to renew our friendship with Christ. “Whatever was written previously”, he tells us, “was written for our instruction, that by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”.
Every friendship, and every renewal of friendship, is grounded on hope, as Advent reminds us. When we love someone we expect something from them, something that can’t be put into words or foreseen; and at the same time our friendship makes it possible for our friend to fulfill this expectation. The opposite is also true. When we no longer expect anything from other individuals, in some way we deprive them of a definite possibility of growth. So we can only speak of hope when there is some sort of interaction between one who gives and one who receives, a kind of communion which is the mark of all spiritual life and therefore of friendship.
That is why St Paul, after speaking about hope, goes on to say, as another translation puts it, “It can only be to God’s glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you”. Treat one another as friends, create possibilities for one another, because that is how Christ is always treating you.
We can even say that friendship is characteristic of the inner life of God. One of our Cistercian Fathers, St Aelred, went so far as to say Deus amicitia est – God is friendship. That provides the background for understanding the first reading from the prophet Isaiah.
The Father loved the “shoot that was to sprout from the stump of Jesse”, namely Christ, who was a descendant of Jesse’s son David. A Chip off the old block, so to speak. Because of his love, the Father had expectations of Christ: that he would not judge by appearances, but would judge the poor with justice, and live with integrity and faithfulness.
In his own friendship with Christ, the Father made it possible for Christ to fulfill his expectations by sending the spirit of the Lord upon him, “a spirit of wisdom and understanding”. He would not deprive his incarnate Son of any possibility of human growth; and so, even from the infancy of Christ, the Father treated him in the same friendly way that Christ would later treat others. At the same time, the incarnate Son would learn by experience that there is a difference between friendship with God and friendship with other people; that there are depths of the soul which no human friend can fill, and which cry out for God.
The Gospel too says something about hope as the basis for friendship. It shows us John the Baptist as a solitary figure preaching in the desert, and not very tactfully calling the leading authorities of his day a “brood of vipers”. It seems from this that hope is linked to a certain frankness, what the Greeks called parrhesia, and baby boomers “telling it like it is”.
John the Baptist entered the desert in that spirit, and prepared a way for the Lord in his own soul before he preached it to others. His life teaches us what the scriptures mean by hope: preparing a way for the Lord, making ourselves available for friendship with him, so that every human being may see the salvation of God. John’s own life of hope, his experience of communion with God, led him later to speak of himself as “the friend of the Bridegroom”.
During this season of Advent, the Church invites each of her sons and daughters to live a life of hope, to deepen our friendship with Christ, the Bridegroom of the soul. The way for the Lord is a spiritual journey out of our self-centeredness into Christ-centeredness, from a hopeless loneliness to a profound communion with Christ.
His friendship with us for his part creates new possibilities of growth for us. The way we relate to ourselves is changed by the presence of Christ in our soul, by what he is for us and what we are for him. The spiritual life becomes a mutual exchange of love, and in this exchange God reveals himself. His Spirit lives in the depths of our spirit, encouraging us and directing all the inner resources we may have.
At this holy communion, the Body and Blood of Christ will become the sacrament of God’s friendship with us. Let us prepare a way for him in our hearts, make him the companion of every moment of our lives, and come to know what it means for a human being to be fully alive. For this friendship does not end in death. It leads to the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb.