The recent increase in COVID restrictions has added a whole new level of stress to an already stressful time of year for many. News that a vaccine may be available in the “near future” does little to alleviate the frustration of not being able to be with family and friends, or to ease the worries of financial insecurities. Our ability to be compassionate and tolerant with one another is being stretched to its limits.
I found unexpected comfort in today’s readings for they all told that, much as it may feel otherwise, God hasn’t abandoned us or isn’t punishing us. God is here, right in the middle of all this mayhem. (Throughout Advent we’re reminded of this when Jesus is called “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us!”) The second reading from the Letter of St. Peter urges us to be patient. Much as we would like God to solve our situation “by yesterday,” our sense of urgency isn’t always in sync with God’s sense of time. “The Lord is not slow about his promises, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”
We hear the word “repentance” again in the gospel. It is unfortunate that the word is often used to mean a confession of sin and guilt. In fact, it is more about a radical, open-minded willingness to change one’s life’s directions. The baptism of repentance proclaimed by John the Baptist recognized that people thirsted for a better life of meaning and purpose. Their baptism symbolized a new commitment to change their life into one where God was the center. John tells them that another [Jesus], would baptize with the Holy Spirit; a baptism that would empower them into a whole new way of living. We sometimes forget that we too, were baptized into that same Spirit and were given the same power of God within us, needed to change our perspective to be more in tune with God’s.
Twice today, we hear the line, “A voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight.” How can we hear God’s voice more clearly speaking within the messy “wilderness” of today’s world? How can we “make straight roads” or level the “mountains…and uneven ground” that prevent us from seeing that God is truly among us and has not abandoned us in our fears and worries?
St. Peter’s letter tells us we must first become patient; not only with God’s plan of action but with one another!! “…while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace.” Acknowledging that everyone around us is dealing with the same stresses and fears, should guide us to become more tolerant and compassionate with one another.
This year of COVID confusions has led me to use the verse from 1 Corinthians 13:13 as my new mantra: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” To have faith is to trust that God is near and active in our lives. To have hope is to trust that God’s goodness and love will prevail. To love, is to act as a living sign of that faith and hope. Even when I have fears and doubts, I can still act with compassion, tolerance and love. Every time I step back, pray for God’s guidance and act with God’s love as my motivation, my faith and hope are restored. A simple act of love is to start with a sense of gratitude for all that is good in this world. AND there is a lot of good still in this world.
* “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” AMEN!
(*older, pre-2011 translation of Roman Missal)