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The Second Sunday of Advent: Prepare the Way of the Lord!

December 6, 2015

A homily for the second Sunday of Advent.  As I was reflecting on the readings, I happened to reread a poster created for me many years ago by the students in my first year seminar, Radical Christian Poverty.  A quote from Dorothy Day got me thinking about preparation.  And then, from a different direction, I began to think about the purported “war on Christmas”  (see the cartoon on the Vox Nova Facebook page).  What follows is the result.  As always, I would value your feedback:  I am essentially trying to teach myself homiletics the hard way, and any help would be appreciated.


Today is the Second Sunday of Advent, and our readings continue to guide us on a double path:  first, towards Christmas, the feast of the Incarnation, when we celebrate the first coming of Christ into the world.  Second, they point towards the end of time, when Christ will come again in glory.  The Advent liturgy reminds us that we are in an in-between time, a journey that started with the resurrection, and leads towards the Kingdom.     In the first reading we heard the prophet Baruch, writing to the Jewish community in exile in Babylon.  Baruch calls on them to put aside their mourning and misery, and wrap themselves in “the cloak of justice from God”.  Their exile is coming to an end, and God will prepare their path through the wilderness to return to Jerusalem:  the mountains will be leveled, the valleys filled in, and their path will straight.  They will journey home rejoicing.

In the same way, each Advent season we remind ourselves that we should prepare  for our own journey home to God.    Advent is a more somber time.  Our liturgical color is purple, the color of penance; we do not sing the Gloria.  But we look forward with hope.  While mindful of our own sinfulness, we are called to take off our sack cloth, wash off the ashes, and prepare ourselves by remembering the great things the Lord has done for us.

In today’s Gospel  John the Baptist calls on the people of Israel to prepare themselves for the coming of God.  Jesus–Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us”—had already come into the world.  But he was hidden and was now going to be revealed through his public ministry.  To get ready for his arrival, John announced a baptism of repentance, but he also promised a time of joy, when “all flesh will see the salvation of God”.  There is sorrow for our sins, but greater joy because of God’s mercy.

John also called on the people to “prepare the way of the Lord,”  to “make straight His paths”.  This is a reversal from the prophet Baruch, where God will prepare the way for his people.  Now, we must prepare the way for God!

How do we prepare the way of the Lord?   Traditionally, we use the Advent season to prepare for Christmas.   We do this symbolically by decorating our houses:  we put up lights, Christmas trees and nativity scenes.  At the same time however, we are caught up in more worldly concerns as we struggle to complete our Christmas shopping or plan the “perfect” holiday for our families.   All of this busyness may seem like preparation.  But it is not and in fact in many ways we are no different than our secular neighbors—we may have a nativity, and we may insist on saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”, but does any of this really prepare the way of the Lord?  No, it does not:  leading the counter-attack against the “war on Christmas” while continuing to be trapped by this secular carnival does not make straight His paths.

To prepare the way of the Lord, we must prepare our hearts.   In Lent we are reminded by the prophet Joel  that God wants us to “rend our hearts, not our garments.”  In the same way, in the Advent season we should prepare our hearts, and not our garments.  Just as we do during Lent, we can do this by prayer, fasting and almsgiving.   We cannot hear “the voice crying out in the desert” unless we stop to listen.  Take some time to pray quietly.  It does not matter how:  pray the rosary, open the scriptures, spend a few extra minutes today in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.  Step away from the hectic rush, the mad Christmas shopping.  Step away from the fruitcake, the cookies, the chocolate:  Christmas celebrations will be here, and on our hips, soon enough.    Give a gift to someone who cannot repay you in kind.  Give the gift of yourself to someone who needs a shoulder to cry on or simply needs someone to be with them.

Beyond this, take the time this Advent season to make straight the Lord’s paths.  Everyone of us is called on the journey to the new Jerusalem, but far too many people find the road filled with mountains to high to climb, canyons too deep to cross.    The poor, the homeless, immigrants and refugees fleeing war and crushing poverty, they all need our help on the journey.  By our almsgiving, we lift them over rough patches, we carry their burdens for a little while.  But they need more than that.  The Lord tells us that mountains are to be made low and the deep valleys filled in:  all the obstacles that keep them from the journey must be removed.    Many of these obstacles were made by us and people like us; perhaps not always deliberately, but nevertheless by what we have done, and what we have failed to do.   And God is calling us to change this.  We may not be able to end war and violence, poverty and homelessness, but we can work to make lasting changes.   We can, by our efforts and through God’s grace, make the world more peaceful, more just, a place where human dignity is not crushed by an economic system more concerned with profits than with people.   We can reject fear, reject bigotry, reject the terrible illusion that we can solve our problems with more guns and more threats of violence.

This Advent season, prepare the way of the Lord, so that together, rejoicing, we may advance secure in the glory of God.

 

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10 Comments
  1. Jack Hartjes permalink
    December 7, 2015 9:50 am

    Nice post, as usual. As teacher of a Confirmation class, I’ve been pondering what to call the time of Jesus’ Second Coming. “End of the world” and “End of time” don’t seem right to me. I finally decided “End of this age” better communicates the idea that all creation will be renewed. Just a suggestion.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS permalink*
      December 7, 2015 1:19 pm

      I never liked “end of the world” because it sounds too much like a Hollywood disaster film. Also, whenever I go to write it, I hear the REM song “it’s the end of the world as we know it….” in the back of my head. The end of time is evocative for me as it highlights a difference between time and eternity; on the other hand, I have no idea if time itself will end in the world to come. The end of this age has a lot of merit, I think, but might require explanation. I used to say “the consummation of the world” which is kind of King Jamesian and gets at the point that the end of the world is when God’s creation is brought to fulfillment—he is not destroying the world but rather bringing it to its ordained conclusion. The problem is “consummation” is not a commonly used word and it might cause more confusion than it helps.

      What do other folks think about this?

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        December 7, 2015 7:32 pm

        I like the sound of “consummation”, personally. I think in general, less commonly used words, if taught well and not dryly or condescendingly, can be helpful in forming our minds to think more poetically, along with the rich theological implications.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS permalink*
          December 7, 2015 10:25 pm

          Interesting point. I have been deliberately trying to avoid “big words” as I write these homilies—my normal vocabulary tends towards the erudite and baroque and my gut sense is that this does not convey the message I am going for. I guess for me the problem is how to teach these words well, in your turn of phrase.

  2. Mark VA permalink
    December 7, 2015 1:39 pm

    My feedback (from the right side of the aisle), for what it is worth:

    I think the right side will hear the themes on consumerism (aka “capitalism”, “economic systems”, “profits”), poverty, homelessness, immigration, refugees, war, violence, guns, fear and bigotry, as pointed at them. I think this is perfectly OK, since we on the right need to hear these themes, and know how to incorporate them into our examination of conscience;

    On the other hand, to remove any excuses from the right (such as gripes about some perceived “bias”), perhaps a parallel set of themes for the left should be added to the list – I don’t think I need to spell them out – no?

    This may set the stage for a good old “Hegelian finale” on good and evil, that could go straight from the gut to the heart – for everyone.

    So, either they all will put on sackcloth and ashes, or they will call you an “un-muzzled flap mouthed jolt-head” (as The Bard may say) ; )

    • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS permalink*
      December 7, 2015 10:28 pm

      Actually, I would be interested in what you would characterize as the parallel themes for those on the left would be. I think some of the things you list cut both ways: in my experience there is, in many parts of the middle-class left, a token respect for “the poor” as a class but no love lost on the poor, the homeless, the drug addicted as individuals. But if you think I am missing something, feel free to be explicit: I am not always real quick on the uptake!

      • Mark VA permalink
        December 8, 2015 5:11 am

        OK, I’ll do so, but reluctantly. Also, with one caveat: I see these differences as matters of emphasis, not necessarily as open disagreements with any themes. For example:

        I think we both agree that all the poor need various types of help, on all levels: face to face, thru a charitable organization, via jurisprudence, health delivery, education, etc. This addresses the state of those who already are poor;

        I propose the “prior” states need to be addressed as well, and this is where it can get polemical, which is not my intent. While the poor will always be with us (Mark 14:7), we should not fall into fatalism here. Sometimes (with emphasis on “sometimes”) there are behaviors which encourage future poverty, like divorce, lack of family formation, or out of wedlock births. These behaviors need to be addressed from the pulpit, pastorally, and regularly. Young people need to learn about them. For example, a cycle of sermons which would unpackage “Humanae Vitae” for the young, may go a long way in ameliorating future poverty, hopefully without alienating anyone;

        I hope this illustrates my point, and allows for its further extrapolation.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, OFS permalink*
          December 8, 2015 2:01 pm

          Mark, thank you: this is not at all what I thought you were driving at, so I am glad I pressed you. Off the top of my head I cannot see how to work these into a homily about preparing the way of the Lord, but they could be there. At the back of my mind, I think, when I am I am writing a homily, is a saying of Dorothy Day, that her mission was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” This leads me to naturally focus on certain immediate issues rather than some remote causes (remote as opposed to proximate). But let me keep this in mind as I go forward. Next week is Gaudete Sunday, so the topic will be joy!

        • Tausign permalink
          December 8, 2015 6:24 pm

          Sometimes (with emphasis on “sometimes”) there are behaviors which encourage future poverty, like divorce, lack of family formation, or out of wedlock births.

          Who are you referring to…Donald Trump, the Kardashians, or David and Bathsheba?

    • Tausign permalink
      December 8, 2015 10:58 am

      Mark I find your comment interesting. It shows a tendency that all of us have to ‘weight’ the Gospel on the ‘scales’ of our own political thought. Mea Culpa! But more importantly, it also demonstrates a trap that all of us fall into…which is to scrutinize the demands of the Gospel rather than ourselves.

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