‘Tis the season, the season of Christmas! I don’t know about you, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks in the Mahoney household, as we prepared our home with lights, wreaths, garland, and other decorations for the Christmas season. We’ve put in a lot of time, effort, and elbow grease into making our home festive. I guess what I should have said at the start of this paragraph is, ‘tis the season of Advent! But I’m sure you already knew this. Advent is a time for change and preparation, we’ve entered into a new liturgical calendar year. You’ll notice some change already, the colors of the church to purple, the advent wreath with its four candles (one for each week of Advent) as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Jesus. Doesn’t seem like a lot of preparation, does it? Where’s all the time, effort, and elbow grease for Advent like we have for Christmas? What if I told you there’s more you can do to prepare? What other changes or preparation are we called to do?
In the first reading, Baruch speaks to us of the reunification of Jerusalem and her ‘children’. He likens the devasted city as a mourning mother and tells her to remove her cloak of mourning because it is time to celebrate “rejoicing because God has remembered them”. The humiliation of their forced march into exile on foot will be undone and they will be “carried in the glory, as on a royal throne”. The heights of despair and the depths of depression will be leveled out, “for God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low, and the valleys filled up, to make level ground so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God”. It is not that the suffering is forgotten, or that anything could go back to being the way it was before the tragedy, but now the divine gift of joy settles over the grieving mother as rebuilding life out of the ruins begins. The returnees are led by God’s light, and their companions are mercy and justice, “For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him”. What can we take as change and preparation? Isn’t funny how something that happened so long ago, can be so easy for us to relate to? I mean, hasn’t this pandemic felt like a kind of exile? And like Jerusalem in Baruch’s time, we can’t go back to what was before, but we can let God enfold us in mercy and righteousness as our companions. With them we can move toward healing, restoration, and the chance for a new beginning.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist talks to us about an opportunity for a new beginning. The start of the Gospel is a bit menacing, so John’s invitation to us is said with some urgency; to repent and to turn away from personal choices that impede God’s coming and collectively turn toward divine mercy. To quote sister Barbara E. Reid, OP, Abiding Word, “Using Isaiah’s words, John first speaks in imperatives: prepare and make straight the way. But then the verbs shift to the passive voice, implying that it will be the Coming One himself who will do the filling in of the valleys and leveling of the mountains, straightening out winding roads, and smoothing the rough ways. The Coming One does not eliminate the suffering and sorrow along life’s path, but fills us with saving joy, justice, forgiveness, and mercy as we open ourselves to the great things God has done and continues to do for us.”
During the season of Advent, we watch and wait. We hope in the promise of salvation. The message of salvation, impressed upon us by the prophets, makes us who we are this Advent — a people preparing for the day, hoping in God’s promise. John the Baptist announced a promise of salvation. He points the way to Jesus, our hope. At the start of this reflection, I asked, ‘Where’s all the time, effort, and elbow grease for Advent like we have for Christmas? What other changes or preparation are we called to do?’ After reflecting on the readings, it became very clear; to make straight our path and prepare for the coming of the Lord. It might be made clear, but I promise there’s more time, effort and elbow grease needed to accomplish this feat. I found a few questions that I hope will offer some deep reflection, should you choose to make time, put in a bit of effort, and let your mind and heart put in a bit of elbow grease.
What are some things that lead you off the path of goodness?
How can you avoid those things to make straight your path this season of Advent?
Where do you find hope this Advent season?
What can you do to help others find hope?
God bless, Katy Mahoney