“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
St. Luke uses this quotation from the prophet Isaiah to describe the proclamation of John the Baptist. John’s ministry of preaching a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” helps usher in the dawn of salvation and the advent of the Messiah, Jesus. Preparation is an important part of the vigil we keep during the season of Advent as we await the Lord’s return.
When we think of preparing for something or someone there are a variety of images that come to mind. We might think of preparing for a trip or welcoming someone to our home as a guest; we might think of preparing a project for work or school or getting ready for a wedding.
One image that could serve as an example is parents awaiting the birth of a child. The parents will do many things in order to get ready for the new family member. Plans will be made for the child’s baptism, a pre-Jordan program will be attended, decisions will be made as to where the child will sleep, what food they will eat, clothes will be purchased, doctor’s will be chosen to care for the baby’s health, and so forth.
Perhaps one of the most important pieces of preparation is choosing a name for the child. The naming of the child is in most cases a decision with permanence. Once baptized the child’s name will be with him or her for life. Naming a child is an important role of the parents. The act of naming represents an important relationship between the parent and child; and import of the child to the parent and the parents’ responsibility to the child. All these activities help to “prepare” for the child’s arrival.
The life of ancient Israel was a preparation for the coming Messiah. In the first reading for today’s Mass, Baruch speaks of a future glory for Jerusalem following its devastation and the exiling of the people of Judah by the Babylonians. God will restore what was broken and the “splendor of glory” will be seen in her. Speaking to Jerusalem, the author says “you will be named forever.”
The “naming” of Jerusalem indicates the special relationship the Israelites have with God. The restoration indicated by this naming will fill the people with joy because they are “remembered by God.” The people will see and experience God’s justice and mercy anew. We see this restoration reach its fulfillment in the advent of the Messiah.
In our celebration of Advent we celebrate the special relationship that God has with His people. We remember that we are already God’s people; in fact, St. Paul reminds us that in and through Christ we are God’s adopted children. As His children we have a special relationship with Him that is based on love. This relationship is perpetual. In our union with Christ through baptism we know that He is always with us.
In one sense, our celebration of Advent is a reminder of this continual “coming” of Jesus into our heart. Yet our Advent celebration also celebrates the second coming of Christ; and toward the end of the season, we prepare to “remember” His first coming. As we go through this week, our thoughts and reflections are on our preparations for Jesus’ second coming.
It is important to remember Jesus’ instruction that we know neither the day nor the hour when He will return. His urgent instructions in the Gospels remind us that the when and where are unimportant. The import lies in our vigilance and preparation. What do we do to prepare? How do we keep vigil? St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians gives us some insights into this.
St. Paul begins noting his prayer for the people. His prayer is continual. The bonds that have been created among the faithful are bonds of love and so the prayer of Paul is one that acknowledges and reinforces the bond. He refers to the relationship as a “partnership for the gospel.”
In this relationship every member proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ, albeit in varied ways. Jesus himself gave this responsibility to all the faithful. We are charged with continuing or carrying forth the salvific mission of Christ by living the Gospel of love and mercy. Paul speaks confidently saying “the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it.” By this he refers to our living out the Gospel message and thereby becoming a living witness to its enduring and eternal value.
St. Paul returns to his prayer saying: “And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”
This prayer of St. Paul is helpful for us during the season of Advent but also during this Year of Faith. Notice that Paul encourages an increase in knowledge and perception. We are encouraged to increase our knowledge of the faith, of the Gospel, which has been handed down to us by Christ through His Church. The goal of this knowledge accompanied with a heightened perception will help us to be “blameless” at the Lord’s return.
The reflection on the faith helps us to know God’s will for us, and how best to live the life that has been entrusted to us. During the season of Advent this reflection on the faith is a good way to “prepare” and to keep vigil for the second coming.
Today as we celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent let us heed John’s call to repentance and preparation so that we too may “prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.