The Second Sunday of Advent
Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
The Surprise of Advent Continues
Advent is a time of feeling and surprise more than historical celebration. As a season practices and customs from different parts of the Christian world joined, evolved and contributed to our Christmas preparation. The historical pegs are fulfillment of prophecy, those to Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and also those that spoke of our long awaited savior and messiah. Even before Gaudete (rejoicing) Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, Baruch and Paul exclaim in our readings today, "Rejoice".
It seems right if Advent prepares us to celebrate our Savior who came in such a surprising way, then our entering into Advent will partake of surprise. Could this be our experience when we remember past Advent’s with nostalgia? An Advent when God’s Word was particularly inviting and prayer consoling? An Advent when we felt close to Mary or Joseph as they waited together for Jesus’ birth, or found ourselves moved by the music or decorations in church? Or when the Christmas preparations that filled a lot of our attention surprisingly kept us linked to God’s long preparation that reached its fulfillment in the meeting of Gabriel with Mary? Unable to recapture these warm memories can leave us feeling disappointed. But there is the surprise. They were the gifts for another time. In this new Advent, we will be surprised again.
We meet John today, a character who is hard to file, he is unique. He is a prophet, a new Elijah. John does no miracles; he does dance for joy in the presence of Mary who is pregnant with Jesus. In art he can be a cherub next to the baby Jesus or the austere preacher coming out of the desert with dress and diet that set him apart. He is informed and can challenge those in authority. Although his preaching is repentance and conversion, no one argues that John is wrong, and many follow him.
Could this Advent Sunday invite us to be surprised by joining those who respond to the Word? John hears the Word of God and comes out of the desert to preach a message of hope. For that reason that people flocked to his Baptism. Who does not want to hear that our journey to God’s presence is a delightful walk? Those who hear John also respond to the Word. When John calls for repentance and assures forgiveness, God’s grace was working among them. Jesus would say how surprising that those who were sinners would find their way into the Kingdom before the self-righteous. John tells us why; those who repent and change take the expressway, level and straight! And perhaps there is a surprise too in that our call to rejoice goes hand in hand with repenting and converting? But this is Advent, a time of grace; a time when God’s Word calls us in surprising ways. May we say yes to God’s Word to us, and go along for the ride, or as John would say, ‘the walk that is straight and smooth and will lead us to see the salvation that comes from God.’
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of St. Joseph’s Monastery parish in Baltimore, Maryland.