(See the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 8)
Sue and Charlie were having a party. They had invited about 50 friends and family members over to their home for dinner. The preparations began a few weeks before. All the calls were made and invitations were sent out. The menu was prepared. The shopping was done.
Sue, Charlie and their children all had jobs to do. They cleaned the house, helped prepare the food, set the table, prepare the games, and set up extra chairs throughout the house. Everything was done so that when the guests arrived, they would know that they were welcome.
The season of Advent is a time for a similar preparation. The guest we are prepping for is Christ. The words of Isaiah that foretold of his original coming, long before he arrived, helped enliven the hope of the people for his advent.
The prophet says that the spirit of the Lord will be with him – “a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.” He will be the greatest guest and his coming will bring justice for the afflicted and the cries of the poor will be answered. The words continue to speak to us today. They lift us up in hope for the Lord’s return.
While we prepare for the Lord’s coming, we are also reminded that he is always present to us and his “coming” is continual. Preparing for his arrival, this Sunday we might turn to the Gospel as well as the passage from Romans for some insights on how we prepare.
The Gospel passage recalls the preaching of John the Baptist. He is “preparing the way” for the Lord announcing: “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John calls us to prepare for the Lord’s coming through repentance.
If we use the image of a house for our souls, repentance is like house cleaning before the guest arrives. Jesus comes knocking at the door of our souls. He wants to come in and when we do open that door, he enters. Yet as we prepare for his arrival, just like the family preparing to welcome guests to their home, we want to clean it up. Repentance for our sins is one of the ways we do this. Cleaning the house shows respect, honor and welcome for the guest. Repentance does the same as we ready ourselves for the Lord.
St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans prays that God will bless the faithful with endurance and encouragement so that they can live in harmony with one another. The passage helps remind us that we do not welcome the Lord alone, we welcome him as a communion of faith.
One way which we welcome him every day is to recognize him in each other. Sue, Charlie and their kids did a lot of work in preparing for their guests so they would know that they are welcome. St. Paul reminds us that this is a regular activity of the communion we share. He says: “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Advent affords us the time to focus on our preparation for the Lord’s arrival. As a family prepares to welcome guests to their home, we too prepare to welcome our Lord. John urges us to prepare through repentance. Paul encourages us to prepare through the “welcome” we give to Christ, already present in each person we meet.
With the busy-ness of life today we are all too familiar with the expression “time is short.” Advent reminds us that the “time is now,” for the Lord is coming.
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.
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