Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalms 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14
2 Peter 3:8-14
So as to be more receptive to the graces of the Word and the Eucharist, imagine a man dressed in a camel’s hair kind of coat, standing outside a barbed wire fence. He is shouting at the top of his voice to the imprisoned that soon they will be released and not only allowed to return to their homeland, but the reason they were confined has been overturned and forgiven. He often pauses to listen to something he seems to hear inside himself, then continues his proclamation and his pointing beyond the horizon indicating the way of the great return.
The words from today’s Opening Prayer say it well. We pray to ”welcome” with joy, the Savior. We pray with the voice of God praying towards us or over us these Advent days.
We can stop and listen to these consoling words of just how God spells “relief.” Exile, banishment, dislocation and affliction are no longer the permanent condition. We can refuse the liberation of course, but the invitation has been sent to us that we might trust once more the God Who Saves. Which rough places need softening, which mountains in our lives need leveling? Prayer is always God’s truth meeting and embracing our truth, if we but allow the meeting. We prepare for this Eucharistic meeting by our hearing the call of “consolation,” that our “guilt has been expiated.” We pray with the Advent grace, that we come to our awareness of needing and wanting a savior and to the awareness that this God desires to embrace us and all of us.
The Jews celebrated the creation of the world by God whose voice brought order out of chaos, “Let there be!” They celebrated also how this always-creating God had brought them out of chaos through the waters of the Red Sea. The people of Israel in exile will be those who remember that God brought them also out of the chaos of bondage as a new Exodus. In today’s Gospel, Mark announces directly in the very first verse that what follows is the “good news” that Jesus is the Son of God. The depth of this good news is that he, Jesus is the final and most complete revelation of God’s identifying all as the people of God.
John the Baptist locates himself, not as the messiah, but the one who will make his coming known. This self-identification dispels any further confusion about who is who. John is baptizing the Jews in the waters of the Jordan claiming their own identity as forgiven. John proclaims that the one who is to come will again claim all to be forgiven and blest in the Holy Spirit.
As we hear the call of Isaiah which is echoed by John the Baptist, it is helpful to take these words as coming from God, but not actually addressed to the exiled Jews, but as a boast about what God was going to do. The mountains and valleys will be made passable so that there will be an easier passage home. We can take it as some kind of imperative to shape up ourselves before God can ride in on those self-smoothed highways.
These Advent days provide us with what we call, “Penance Services.” It is a wonderful time for me as a quite human servant-priest to welcome my fellow sinners to this Sacrament and to invite them to welcome themselves. Many begin by saying something like, “I don’t have anything new, the same old ones. Every Lent and Advent I say the same thing. I guess I am not making any progress.” I usually remind them that this sacrament is not necessarily a variety show. They hear readings like these and say to themselves, “Prepare? I’ve been trying to prepare for years and what I seem to prepare for is discouraging results. I seem to prepare just to prepare.”
These days of Advent it would be helpful for all of us to prepare
to watch not the imperatives, but ways God makes us less rough, less mountainous,
less exiled. What can seem as chaos to us is “creatable” to God.
What seems like the hypocritical “old stuff again” is the banishment we
do to ourselves. Jesus has come to tell us that our time of alienation
is at an end. If there is an Advent, if there is an Incarnation,
then we are encouraged to let Jesus level, fill in, straighten out, not
so that we can go to Him, but that we will be freed from our harshness
and exiling spirits and allow Jesus into our stables.
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