(Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 10)
The Lord says, through the prophet Isaiah: “Comfort, give comfort to my people…. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.” The words convey the great healing that takes place through God’s mercy. Comforting indeed is the merciful love that lifts us out of the darkness of sin into the bright light of life.
Isaiah uses powerful natural images to convey the transformation that takes place when that mercy comes upon us. Valleys are filled in, mountains are made low, rugged land will be made smooth and rough country will become a plain. Such is the power of God’s mercy. He not only heals, he transforms.
John the Baptist prepared for the arrival of the Messiah. John echoes the Isaiah call – “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Repentance is one of the ways one prepares. The evangelist tells us that many people from the Judean countryside and from Jerusalem were going out to John “being baptized by him as they acknowledged their sins.”
John’s mission is one of preparation. He prepares for the one who “will baptize (you) with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is the one who is coming. He is the one who heals through the gift of his life.
Advent is a time of preparation and vigilance. We prepare for the Lord’s coming and we keep watch. Reflecting on the Baptist’s call to repentance we might spend some time this week reflecting on the different aspects of our lives that need the medicine of mercy. God is immeasurably patient with us in his ever-present love. He moves in our lives, drawing us to desire his mercy and to repent.
The second reading for Sunday’s liturgy from the Second Letter of St. Peter refers to God’s saving activity in our lives, saying: “Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay,’ but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
The reading encourages us to strive for “holiness and devotion” as we wait for the “coming day of God.” The call for holiness is a reminder that our lives have been “purchased by the blood of the lamb.” We have been redeemed through Jesus’ sacrifice. Joined to him in baptism, having life because of him “who died and rose for us,” we are dedicated to God. Our lives are not our own, they are his.
Yet there is a continual call to holiness throughout our lives. This is the ongoing conversion of heart, the regular and repeated turning toward God and away from sin. We should be careful not to confuse holiness with piety or identify it solely with religious practices or devotions.
The call to holiness, conversion of heart, entails the entirety of our lives. Every aspect of our lives is open to his transforming love: our relationships, our desires, our hopes, our thoughts, our actions, our interactions and so forth. The more we allow Jesus to come into our hearts “now,” the more we are prepared to greet him when he comes “then.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.