Second Sunday of Advent
Indicating the importance of Advent and the message of these readings, the Church this weekend celebrates the Second Sunday of Advent, rather than the great feast of the Immaculate Conception. The feast of the Immaculate Conception will occur this year on Dec. 9 instead.
This weekend’s reading again is from Isaiah. Isaiah was very unhappy with the turn of events of his time. As was so often the case with the ancient Hebrew prophets, Isaiah saw the misfortunes facing his people as the result of their own disloyalty to God. His words, however, were neither menacing nor hostile. Rather, they were reassuring. They declared the prophet’s firm belief that despite the sins of the people God would not forsake them. Furthermore, in due time, God’s holy will would be vindicated. Wrongs would be righted. Errors would be corrected. Justice and peace would prevail.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. In this reading St. Paul repeats the basic message given earlier by Isaiah. It is a testimony to God’s love. Throughout history, St. Paul maintains, God guided the Chosen People to righteousness and ultimately to union with the divine. Paul sees God as the source of all patience and encouragement. Human failings notwithstanding, God’s love is constant.
The Apostle also counsels the Christian Romans to accept each other in love and good will. After all, he insists, Christ accepted them. Christ was the visible and effective instrument on earth of God’s goodness, the model for all human behavior.
For its third reading, the Church offers us a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. The central figure is John the Baptist, mentioned in Luke as the child of Elizabeth and Zachary. Elizabeth of course was a “kinswoman,” probably cousin, of Mary. Therefore, John was related to Jesus.
From the earliest days of Christianity, John the Baptist has been a favorite figure. His absolute commitment to the all-encompassing majesty of God’s perfect order has made him a paragon of devotion.
John clearly was on a mission. Gospel testimony is plentiful. Travel in ancient Palestine was understandably rare. It was very difficult and time-consuming. It was unpredictable and risky. Very few would ever have traveled for diversion or leisure.
That John journeyed far and wide evidenced his sense of mission, and he encountered many people.
John was not hesitant or vague in confronting sin. He chastised his listeners, in effect, for their differences of opinion. Self-interest drove them too much. Their lack of obedience to God only strengthened the reign of sin in the land. Thus, their personal failings contributed to the burdens weighing heavily upon the entire society.
Understandably, he challenged the people to purge themselves of this self-interest and sin and humbly to turn to God.
Throughout Advent, the Church calls us to receive God in our hearts. The Lord’s coming at Christmas is symbolic of divine entry into human life.
It frankly places before us our own sins and the sins of all humanity. John himself was stark and direct, absolutely and completely committed to God. His words are sharp and unequivocal. In like manner, for our own good, the Church calls us to a thorough examination of conscience.
Using the very words, and example, of John the Baptist, the Church bluntly urges us to put first things first. Following worldly self-interests will lead nowhere — certainly not to God.
Advent’s purpose is not just to plan for a memorial of Christ’s birth. It primarily calls us to make our hearts fitting dwelling places for the Lord. To be such fitting dwelling places, we must rid ourselves of sin. It is that simple.
Isaiah and Paul remind us that God will empower us in our quest for holiness. God wants us to live. He loves us.
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