The Second Sunday of Advent
(Baruch 5: 1-9, Philippians 1: 4-6, Luke 3: 1-6)
The Prophet Baruch exhorted the exiled people to clothe themselves in the glory of the Lord their God. Even though they were in a foreign land, he told them to wrap themselves in the garments of righteousness and walk in the presence of the Lord. Like our ancestors in the faith, we have been forced out of our comfort zones. We have been separated from the people we love. We have been threatened by an unseen and pernicious enemy. Even as the threat of the latest COVID variant hangs over our heads, the prophet tells us to keep our eyes fixed on the radiant splendor of God. When the world was a formless waste and all was wrapped in darkness, the voice of God was heard, and his radiant glory filled the earth. The people who walked in darkness and gloom saw a great light.
The uncertainty brought on by the pandemic has shaken our confidence to the roots. Masking and social distancing have forced us to deal with issues of isolation and loneliness. The winter chill that seeps into the marrow of our bones forces us to acknowledge our fragility and mortality. I came across a 13th-century poem entitled How Long the Night that speaks to these sentiments.
How Long the Night
It is pleasant, indeed, while the summer lasts
with the mild pheasants’ song …
but now I feel the northern wind’s blast—
its severe weather strong.
Alas! Alas! This night seems so long!
And I, because of my momentous wrong,
now grieve, mourn, and fast.
Advent is a season of longing for the coming of the Light of the World. Advent is a season for those who wander in the darkness of the night to recognize and admit the truth about themselves. Advent is about the radiant glory of the Father becoming one of us so that we might become children of the Light. Like king Zedekiah of old, we are overwhelmed by the circumstances in our life. And with him, we cry out, “Is there any word from the Lord?” (Jer. 37:17) Having asked the question, we must patiently open the ears of our hearts and listen for the gentle voice as it speaks in our wilderness. “The maiden is with child and will soon give birth to the Word Incarnate.” God who loves the world sent His Beloved Son to make us fully human again. In response to his love, we are called to prepare the way for God to enter into our lives.
The apostle Paul takes up this theme in his prayer for the church in Philippi. “This is my prayer: that your love may increase more and more and that you might grow in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless at the coming of Christ” (Phil 1:9). Though he was separated from them, Paul held them close to his heart. Though they were out of sight, he saw them in the Light of Christ. His affection and prayer resonate with these words taken from the First Letter of Peter. “Though you have never seen him, you love him. Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an indescribable joy that has been touched with glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). Advent is a time for us to draw all who are separated from us close to our hearts with cords of love. We should make Paul’s words our own. “I thank my God for you every time I think of you. Every time I pray for you, my heart overflows with joy” (Phil. 1:3). Advent is a season of the heart. Nothing can separate us from the heart of Christ (CF Rom. 8:38), because nothing can separate Christ from the heart of the Father (CF Jn. 1:18). The Spirit at work in us makes us like God and enables us to rejoice in his presence in all people. Pope Francis declared it quite beautifully. “To Christians, the future has a name, and that name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean being optimistically naïve and ignoring the tragedies people face. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but can turn its gaze towards tomorrow.”
John the Baptist was the clarion voice that announced the beginning of the new age, the time of Jesus and his ministry. In Christ, God draws near to us with the offer of forgiveness. The loving Father does for us what we could never do for ourselves. In Christ, God seeks out and finds his scattered and lost children. In the scripture texts, we find encouragement and reasons to be joyful. We are reminded that the Light of the World became one of us so that we may radiate his light, his love, his justice, and his mercy to people who find themselves trapped in darkness. In a community that is guided by justice, all its members are treated with equality; all its members can share its resources; none of its members go hungry or are treated unfairly. I will close with an excerpt from Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”