Abbey Second Sunday of Advent – C
Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
This is one of those rare Sundays in the year when the Gospel does not mention Jesus directly; it does not recount an incident from his life or one of his sayings. Jesus is absent in some way or at least is only in the background. Perhaps that is a clue about this season called Advent. It is not about someone here; it is about someone coming; it is the Advent of the Lord, to give this season its original and full title. It might do us well to be reminded that Jesus is not here. And our lives are lived as much without him as they are with him. It is a central mystery of our faith that Jesus is still coming. And if he is coming, then he is not here. Advent reminds us clearly of the fact that we are living in expectation of someone’s coming. It is not a fearful time. The word today makes it clear that for those who believe and trust in God, waiting and expectation are touched by the joy of anticipation. It is not an idle time, either. This time of waiting for Jesus is rather full–full of images of what is to come with Jesus; images of hope and fulfillment. At the same time the Word of God is quite concrete about what we are to do as we wait in hope. I find two images in the word today that clue us in on this work of waiting.
First image: road work. Those of us who drive down Route 206 to I-80 are quite familiar with road work. First, there was road work on Cat Swamp Mt. There John’s words of leveling mountains could be seen firsthand. Now we are watching road work that involves widening and straightening in Byram. It seems it be going on for a long period of time, perhaps reminding us of the period of waiting for the Lord to come. And perhaps we have become accustomed to the road work and its signs.
The prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist make it clear that the road work is as much about our lives as it is any improvement on route 206. John goes around proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The road work of waiting is called repentance. Translated into English it means a change of heart; it means a change of thinking, a change of the way I look at my life and the lives of others. As John understands it, the one who is coming is calling for a response to his coming even before he arrives. Something has to change. God’s expected arrival demands something radical. John’s baptismal ritual is a sign that I am willing to change, to put my life in harmony with what and who is coming. It seems that the change of attitude and behavior is focused on forgiveness. Forgiveness in two ways: I accept forgiveness from God-I am cleansed from my failure in my relationship with God and with others; my past is cleansed by the mercy of God. I don’t go into the water so that I can wash myself; I go into the water so that God can pour his mercy and Spirit over me. I go into the water because washing myself is an illusion. Real cleansing mean submission to being washed by another.
The second element of my new heart is that I forgive, I let go, I relax my expectations of what I expect from those who have hurt or injured me. The wrong they have done me might never be justified. But my holding on to the hurt is not the road to healing. Much road work is necessary here to move mountains in my heart so that it is leveled and the way forward is smooth. My heart has surely to be softened. The prophet John the Baptist was quite serious when he talked about the road work that would be needed to make the way for new life. Road building is not done with half-measures: the valleys are filled in and the mountains leveled and the road is straight not crooked or winding… A repentance that leads to accepting forgiveness and offering forgiveness ourselves is radical. It goes to the roots of the resistance of my mountains. …..Preparation for the Lord’s coming involves that radical remaking of life’s road. It is key to the new life. Remember forgiveness is the hallmark at the heart of the one who is coming. Every Eucharist reminds us: my blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.
A second image hinting of what to do while waiting is offered to us by the first prophet we heard today, Baruch. He asks Jerusalem to change her clothes. The image is that Jerusalem is wearing mourning clothes because she lost her children in exile….well there is a promise that they are coming home. Look to the East!….something is happening there—time to change to a new outlook on things; time to change from mourning and lamenting to something new.
The new clothes that the community is asked to wear reveal the change that is to come: now the clothes of the community are justice, peace and mercy. Some might put on new clothes for Christmas or receive a gift of some new clothing to celebrate the Lord’s coming. All well and good…But it seems that if we heed the prophet’s word: then what we really are to be putting on as a community is peace, mercy and justice. When these are our clothes, then truly the Lord will come because he will recognize his own. If we want to hasten the Lord’s coming, then we need to put on these clothes because they are attractive.
When we listen to Paul today he prays for his community in Philippi as they await the Day of Christ. And what does he pray for: He asks for love, knowledge, discernment, righteousness to be alive in them. These are the qualities he says that will make them blameless and pure when the Lord comes.
Advent is about making preparations because someone is coming: the preparations are as radical as road building or changing clothes. But the result of making preparations means a new heart, a change in behavior; it means living out the very qualities of the one who is coming: peace, justice, knowledge and discernment, mercy and a love that keeps on growing.
New clothes mean a new person, new identity, new dignity; road work means a new landscape. The clothes and the landscape are marked by deeply human qualities that reflect the divine in whose image we are all made: peace, justice, mercy, knowledge and love. Those who are putting on such clothes will know their Lord when he comes.
The prophets call is clear. Can we join in their vision? Are we willing to change our clothes, our lives. Will we be humble enough to wash in the in the Lord’s mercy, light and love?