Sunday Reflection – Prepare a Way for the Lord
Two great prophets, Isaiah and John the Baptist, stride into our liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Advent. We usually think of prophets as people who foretell the future but that is only partially true. The real meaning of prophecy is the unveiling and proclamation of God’s presence in dark and difficult times.
Prophets open up for us a new way of seeing things. According to John Ruskin, a great art critic, for every hundred people who talk there is one who thinks: and for every thousand who think there is but one who sees. Prophets are among those who see in a new way. That is why they are called seers.
Years ago, I asked an Australian sister what her first experience of Advent in mid-winter meant to her. The discomfort of coldness and rain was too obvious to mention. She was a keen artist and she saw things through the eye of an artist. In the rapid descent of twilight on a winter evening, colours disappeared, and the black and white outline of housetop, hills and trees stood out. The skeletal form of trees invited her mind to reflect on the essential thrust and shape of life when stripped of its adornments and masks. When Patrick Kavanagh wrote his poem about Advent, it was a season of Lenten penance but he found that it restored a child’s sense of wonder.
“But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury of a child’s soul …”
Isaiah is the voice of hope
In the dreadful years of the destruction of their temple and their exile in Babylon, Isaiah was the voice of hope for the Jewish nation. In today’s First Reading he promised the coming of a child to lead the people, someone sprung from David’s line. On him would rest the spirit of the Lord bestowing what we call the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, holiness and reverential fear of God. With the child’s sense of wonder he visualized the weapons of war being transformed into implements for the cultivation of land. He promised the reconciliation of traditional enemies.
“The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid,
calf and lion cub feed together, with a little boy to lead them.”
Wars are the work of adults, so it will be a little child who will lead us to peace, the child whose birthday we will celebrate at Christmas.
In his public ministry, Jesus found that the people who accepted his teaching were those who had the child’s sense of wonder. “Filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, he said ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and clever, and revealing them to little children’” (Luke 10:21).
“In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:16).
Word from the wilderness
The second prophet in today’s liturgy is John the Baptist, the last of the biblical prophets. He was the one whom Isaiah foretold when he said, “A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.”
John emerged on the scene after spending time in the wilderness, wearing a rough garment made of camel-hair, having fed on locusts and wild honey. Wilderness is the uncultivated land where untamed animals are a danger. Little wonder that people regarded the wilderness as the home of evil spirits. In the early Christian centuries, hermits went to the wilderness as if to confront the evil spirits on their home pitch with their prayer and penance. It was in the wilderness that the word of God came to John, calling him to prepare the way of the Lord. His key message was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.” Repent literally means to think again. Think again. Examine your way of living. Are you following the light of Christ or is your path of life going in the wrong direction. John recalled the advice given by his mentor, Isaiah, to the exiled people about to return from Babylon to Jerusalem. Their physical journey should also be a moral conversion. It is a lesson still valid, particularly in our preparation for Christmas.
Examination of conscience
John the Baptist recalled Isaiah’s roadworks and we too can take that imagery to challenge our conscience in preparing the way for Christmas.
Do I have crooked ways to straighten where I have deviated from the commandments and ideals of Christ? Are there winding ways where I am not fully honest with God … with others … with myself?
Every valley must be filled. These valleys are the low times when I wandered from God’s presence and support. Confidence in God has been low. I have allowed the bad news to take over my thinking. I have not given adequate time to prayer. The light of faith is very dim.
Every mountain must be laid low. These mountains are the huge obstacles which I imagine are insurmountable. I lack the confidence of the psalmist. “I lift up my eyes to the mountain. From where shall come my help? My help shall come from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”
What hills must be flattened? Pride makes me look down on others. I subject them to my judgement. I boss them. I need the grace of humility.
Rough ways must he made smooth. The jagged edges of my personality irritate others … when I am insensitive, lacking in generosity or unwilling to compromise.
O God, may I always know you as Someone-is-Coming. May I never lose hope. Help me to see that you are always present.
Take me and use me to be someone-coming for others. May I be caring towards those who are neglected, and sensitive to those who are hurt.
Use me as the source of good news for those burdened by the sadness of sin, as the spark of joy for those who are depressed.
Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, come