This is a reflection on the readings for the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Click here to see the readings.
There’s a fine line between meaningful ritual and mindless repetition. Outwardly, both involve doing/saying the same thing day in and day out, or year in and year out, but ultimately, it is our interior dispositions that reveal the chasm between the two.
As a musician and liturgy student, I have always loved the richness and beauty of the liturgy, but if I’m being completely honest, this Advent I’ve been showing up to Mass, not in joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth, but completely out of habit.
Purple vestments? Check.
Advent wreath? Check.
Songs about preparation and hope? Check.
I sit in the pew, somewhat numb to the seasonally-appropriate readings that I’ve heard every three years since the beginning of time. I stand, sit, and kneel when I hear the rustling of movement around me, and fumble, almost on cue, at the special Advent intercessory response because, let’s be honest, no one ever gets it right the first time.
Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy…
Be vigilant at all times.
There’s a house in my neighborhood that we drive by every time we drop the kids off at school. And they have the BEST lights every year. Last month, inspiration(?) hit me as I envisioned our house decked out in Christmas lights for the first time, garlands strewn on our stair railings. So I ordered what we needed and waited in anticipation for our Christmas goodies — the thing that would make our Christmas absolutely perfect.
We are now at the second week of Advent and those lights I ordered remain in the box and our Christmas tree is a quarter of the way decorated. And now every time I pass by my neighbor’s house, there’s always a twinge of guilt that I’m not doing enough to make Christmas feel special, that I’ve fallen short because my plans fell through. I’M NOT READY.
Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from…the anxieties of daily life.
The days feel like they’re slipping by, that I’m running out of time, that I won’t be ready. Not ready to put on the splendor of God’s glory or wrap myself in God’s cloak of justice or wear the mitre of the eternal name. I don’t feel filled with joy; please stop telling me to rejoice. I’m just fine here with my robe of mourning and misery.
And in the midst of my grumbling, I can’t help but remember the Israelites as they are about to cross the Red Sea. Pharoah, upon seeing that the Israelites “are wandering about aimlessly in the land…the wilderness has closed in on them,” sets out once again to pursue them. And the Israelites exclaim to Moses:
“Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? Far better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:12).
And they persist in their grumbling, two chapters later:
“If only we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our kettles of meat and ate our fill of bread! But you have led us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of famine!” (Exodus 16:2-3)
I recall the readings from this second Sunday of Advent, and the original verse from the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one crying out in the desert:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Lk 3:4).
“A voice proclaims:
In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” (Isaiah 40:3).
What does it mean to heed the voice in the desert? What does it mean to prepare the way and make straight God’s paths?
According to Proverbs 3:5-6, it all comes down to trust:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely;
In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.
John the Baptist preaches a Gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. To repent, metanoia in the Greek, is not merely expressing “sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” It is “a radical change of heart, forcing one to dig deeply…The potential to change, to see with new eyes, fires the imagination, fuels the visionary and changes the world.” (source).
Metanoia is not something we can achieve on our own — we can only be open to it (source). It is the answer to God’s eternal question to each one of us, over and over again: Do you choose to love me enough to trust me?
Do you trust that I am who I say I am?
Do you trust that I will do for you what I say I will do, despite everything that points to the contrary?
Do you trust that you are who I say you are? That you are fully known and beloved?
Do you believe?
I’ve come to recognize that whenever I experience numbness in prayer, whenever I feel like I’m going through the motions, it is because I have built a wall around me in a vain attempt to hide from God. The thought of trusting God is too scary, too risky because it means that I am giving up control, that I am opening myself up to be vulnerable in the face of a broken people and broken world. If our self-offering is to reflect the self-offering of Christ, then the only logical conclusion is that our hearts will also be broken by a hurting world.
2018 has been a rough, dark year. I don’t know if that’s because the world is changing, or because I am changing — perhaps I’m simply more aware of the suffering that has taken place all around the world since the beginning of time.
Today, I wrote because I want to believe what God promised us from the very beginning:
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—
and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—
Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3).
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
…All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1, 3-5).
May each of us, as we journey alongside each other to celebrate this season of Advent, practice patience, trusting “that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6). May we “discern what is of value” (Phil 1:10), ridding ourselves of that which clouds our vision and steals our joy. May we recognize and believe that the light shines brightest in the darkest places, that we worship a God who mends the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).
Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!