This second Sunday of Advent invites us to ponder how, when the Lord comes, we can “be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.” In our busy preparations for Christmas, we can grow preoccupied with making our homes immaculately clean for the many guests we may entertain, but we tend to “run out of time” for the interior cleaning that we need, the preparation of our hearts. The readings today remind us that our Advent work is not only external but internal as well.
In the first reading, Isaiah gives a beautiful image of the kind of change that is to take place in us: “the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” A plain is a vast piece of open and level land. The entire surface can be seen; nothing is hidden. A broad valley is similar. From atop a hill or mountain, we can gaze upon a beautiful valley and see it all on display before us. The transformation of the rough landscape into an open, beautiful, welcoming space is symbolic of how the rough wasteland of our hearts needs to be smoothed out. The rocks of our stubbornness and pride must be removed, the dark crevices of fear and doubt need to be filled in with the light of faith. Our whole interior life must be exposed to the healing rays of the Lord’s mercy.
The call to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord is urgent and strong. Isaiah’s voice rang out in the desert with this message, and John the Baptist’s voice makes it even more insistent. We cannot act as if the wasteland of our sin condition is normal, much less fitting for the arrival of the Lord. The voice of the prophets calls out to us today: “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”
We have a natural tendency to want to avoid the impact of the prophetic message and to downplay its urgency. For hundreds of years people have been saying that the Lord will come, but he never has. If he’s going to keep delaying, why should I bother worrying about his coming? St. Peter refutes this erroneous way of thinking in the second reading. He tells us that what looks to us like “delay” is in fact divine patience! If the Lord has not returned yet, it is only because he sees our need for repentance. For him, a thousand years are like one day. Whether he comes in one day or in a thousand years, the message remains the same: prepare the way! Peter teaches us that, rather than procrastinating, we should look forward to the future, conducting ourselves “in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”
How do we go about this? John the Baptist gives us two essential elements of our Advent preparation, repentance and humility. When he appears in the desert, his main message is the proclamation of “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” This shows us that sin is the main obstacle to a proper welcoming of the Lord. Sin leaves rubbish and potholes, mountains and valleys, spots and blemishes, on the highway. We cannot, on our own, do anything about the problem of sin, but when we repent, we deliberately turn away from sin and express our sorrow. This opens the way for the Lord to restore us. Most of us have already been restored through the marvelous miracle of Baptism. But sin keeps finding its way back onto the highway and must be cleared away. The great sacrament of repentance is Confession. In the season of Advent, we should “prepare the way” by making a thorough, thoughtful, prayerful examination of conscience and then make a worthy Confession.
Humility is the other lesson we learn from John the Baptist. A powerful preacher and forceful witness, he is at the same time an extraordinarily humble man, well aware that he was not worthy even to stoop before the Messiah and loosen the thongs of his sandals. We who are even less worthy than John are called to humble ourselves before the Lord. When we do, we welcome the voice of the prophets who call us to repentance, and we open our hearts to the Lord’s power to heal us and care for us. When we acknowledge our dependence on God and dedicate time to be alone with him in prayer, he can speak to our hearts and change them from rough and rugged to smooth and open. He replaces our vices with virtues and heals our hidden wounds. As we continue to prepare for the Christmas festivities, let us prepare space in our hearts for the birth of our Savior by taking time in prayer, repenting of our sins, and conducting ourselves “in holiness and devotion.”
What are my areas of fear and doubt? Do I fully embrace the need for repentance and humility? In what ways can I better prepare for the Lord?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.