Ah, how time flies; it’s already the 2nd Sunday of Advent! However, it’s not too late to sound a warning: Never lose sight of the Gospel message of this Advent time. But what does this strange warning mean? Well, that’s the reflection I propose to you in this post.
Bible Readings Baruch 5: 1–9 Psalm 126: 1–5 Philippians 1: 4–6, 8–11 Luke 3: 1–6
Classic message of Advent
You can’t think of Advent without the following words resonating in your ears:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth”
Almost by habit we know what that entails. When an important visitor is coming we want to put things in order before he arrives. Similarly, as good Catholics we know what we should be doing during Advent. Probably we are working on little projects for our conversion, as Advent resolutions. They are somewhat obligations that we have imposed upon ourselves, inspired by our piety. I can imagine the pleasure once we manage to accomplish them faithfully -leaving us feeling, yes, I have cleared the way for the Lord. I’m ready, come Lord! It’s such feeling of being ready that disturbs me a little. Having accomplished my personal Advent programme, I feel not only ready but also worthy. Hence, the Lord should come. I sense a danger.
Little corner of self-righteousness
I may accomplish my Advent resolutions with the best of intentions, yet, the satisfaction may leave me indulging in some form of self-righteousness -yes, I did it, I’m now clean enough to receive the Lord in my life. I feel have responded to the call to prepare the way for the Lord. My preoccupation is not really the temptation of that little pride, it can be healed and pardoned; however, what I find most serious is the risk of losing sight of the Gospel message of the incarnation. And that’s why something in me protests, in form of a question, against this Sunday’s gospel.
Who prepares the way?
By protest I mean, I actively dialogue with the word of God, and where I meet difficulties I’m not afraid to express it -you may have noticed that already if you are regular reader of my posts. The difficulty I meet this Sunday is that I really wonder who prepares the way, is it I or God? The problem comes from my appreciation of the incarnation mystery.
God becomes one of us, meeting us right where we are -even in our fragility. He doesn’t say, go and wash first before I come; he just comes with no condition attached. That’s the bounty of God’s love that defies my uncleanliness. I call it the Gospel or the Good News of the incarnation mystery. I’m inspired by Paul when he writes:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). Not my effort, but his bounty
Indeed, such awareness makes a lot of difference in the way I live advent. I realise that it’s not about the little efforts I make in my little corner, but rather, first and foremost, savouring this gratuitous love that God lavishes on me, and on the entire humanity. Whatever I do thereafter is not for my credit but simply to say, thank you God for your love. From there, most probably, I will find even new energy to become missionary of such unconditional love. When I reflect on God who is coming to meet me right in my fragility and uncleanness, without demanding that I wash first; I feel encouraged to approach and accept others, as they are, without imposing my conditions on them. Wouldn’t that be a good Advent project for my conversion?
When I think of our human relations, couples in particular; often we get jammed up because of the pressure we exert on the other. I want the other person, before I can accept and love him, to become the way I want him to be. That’s how some people, especially those who resist my pressure, are excluded from my love. But an attitude of gratitude, during Advent, can lead us not only to our conversion but will enable us also to radiate God’s bounty in our own relationships with others.
Having set the foundation, now we can attempt to respond to the question: who prepares the way?
Hint from the 1st Reading
From the 1st reading we can capture the Gospel message of the incarnation mystery. How? We have a message of hope announced to the people who, by their misery in exile, have hit the bottom of the pit. That’s not foreign to us; we too have our little exiles: experience of pain, humiliation and hopelessness. At times we need such assuring touch to help us get back on our feet. By the prophet, God joins his people right in their misery, and invites Jerusalem to rejoice. Why? Because her children who were driven into exile like slaves shall return, no longer in humiliation, but with pomp of kingly people.
“For they went forth from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne. For God has ordered that every 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.”
Not only does God promise to liberate his people, but he’s also going to cut a highway for them through the desert, and former slaves will come back with honour. That’s the Good News of Christmas we are preparing for during Advent. There I realise, I have nothing to boast about; all I can do is open my hands to welcome God’s grace with gratitude and humility.
And the call of John the Baptist?
Well, perhaps the mountains and hills that I need to level, and valleys to fill up, would be facing my fears, doubts and lack of trust, in short, dealing with whatever makes me hesitate to open myself to welcome the liberation that God is offering me. Yes, I prepare the way of the Lord when I lower my pride, which feeds on my self-righteousness, and allow God to meet me right where I’m without shame. And in my turn, I allow others, through me, to taste this goodness of God.
No, I don’t save myself, no I can’t wash myself clean enough to merit God’s love; it’s God himself who saves me. It’s he who makes the way that enables me to walk back to my dignity. And so, I can only pray: Give me Lord, this 2nd week of Advent, to savour with gratitude your goodness to me.
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