Second Sunday of Advent
Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Phil 1:4-6, 8-11
Advent is a time of anticipation, consolation, and hope. In this Sunday’s first reading, we find the people of Israel in a state of exile and mourning. Jerusalem had fallen and the majority of Jews had been forced to leave their beloved land to live and live abroad (in the diaspora). It would have been difficult for the people of Israel to imagine a worse fate. It is into that context of darkness and suffering that the readings and prayers of advent are directed: “Take off your robe of mourning and misery”!
The last few weeks have given us many reasons for mourning and misery. There has been no shortage of violence and death. Syria continues to be torn apart by civil war, drowned refugees wash ashore or face hostility on land in Europe, terrorism on the streets of Paris, mass shootings almost daily in the United States, and so on. When we say that Jesus Christ is our hope and our salvation we affirm that we believe that God ultimately will save us not only from our own sin but also from all of these manifestations of sin in the world. Violence, poverty, and death are signs of a world in need of grace and salvation.
What should be our response? On the one hand, the overcoming evil and bringing about salvation is God’s work. It is something that we cannot accomplish. We can only wait in faith and hope, trusting that the final word about reality is life and love rather than darkness and death. “Every mountain and hill will be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight.” Note that part of the Gospel reading is in the passive voice (these things happen without any specification of who is accomplishing them). On the other hand, this Sunday’s gospel suggests that we share in the task of building God’s reign on earth. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Similarly, this Sunday’s epistle suggests that we are living in a time of preparation in anticipation of the return of Christ.
We are called to pray, to strive to grow in holiness, to struggle against injustice, always with the knowledge that only God has the power to empower us to reach our goals or repair our world definitively. As we light our candles this advent, let it serve to remind us of the work that we are called to do to dispel darkness in ourselves and in our world. More importantly, may it remind us to be hopeful, and to trust in the beautiful prophecy of Zechariah: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-9).