Father Donald Senior, CP

Dec. 10: 2nd Sunday of Advent

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Is 40:1-5, 9-11; Ps 85:9-10-11,12, 13-14; 2 Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8.

Anticipating Christ’s birth

What a great word “anticipation” is. Its Latin roots literally meaning to “take” or “experience” something beforehand. 

In the case of expecting something unpleasant or dreadful, we can get anxious, even fearful, as we anticipate it. In the case of something wonderful, something or someone we have longed to see or experience, the anticipation can be almost as enjoyable or exciting as the experience itself.

Maybe for a parent it’s thinking about the upcoming Christmas visit of a son or daughter. For a fiancé maybe it’s the joy of waiting at the airport for one’s beloved who works far away and is coming for a long-planned reunion. Maybe for children, it is the excitement of coming down stairs on Christmas morning. For any of us, maybe its planning the trip of a lifetime — even before we get there, we enjoy the anticipation.

Anticipation is the byword for the readings for this Second Sunday of Advent. One of the deepest and most abiding motifs in the Bible is the longing for God. There is anticipation that God might bring peace and justice to a world wracked with pain and confusion. 

The first reading for today is taken from the prophet Isaiah. This eloquent prophet is quoted more frequently in the New Testament than any other Old Testament writing. It is easy to see why.

The passage for this Sunday is soaked in longing that God will come and bring words of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace. “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. … her guilt is expiated.”  

The good news of God’s deliverance of his people is to be shouted out in the desert or on a high mountain. “Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news. Fear not. … Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm. … Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”

The opening scene from the Gospel of Mark read this Sunday draws another image of anticipation from this chapter of Isaiah. “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying in the desert; ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”  

The evangelist evokes the poetic words of Isaiah expressing Israel’s longing for God to come — “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” 

This wondrous anticipation of God’s advent is now being fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist, another prophet who announces the coming of God’s messiah, Jesus: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.”

This motif of anticipation reminds us that Advent is a season when the church invites us to be aware of our deepest longings, the foundation for our greatest hopes. St. Augustine’s often quoted but still enduring words come to mind: “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in you.” 

There are a lot of things that make life worth living, moments of joy and satisfaction that hopefully we all have a chance to experience in our everyday lives. But the longer we live we also become aware that many of these joys and satisfactions are fragile. Familiar things change; people we love move on; our health may decline.  

What is it that endures, no matter what? For people of faith, the deepest, most enduring and most life-giving reality is our tenacious belief that God is a God of love who will ultimately bring our crazy world and our fragile hopes to an experience of ultimate peace and fulfillment.  

Becoming more conscious of that deep-down anticipation is the Advent message of our readings this Sunday.


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