December 4, 2016 — Second Sunday of Advent
In the Gospel passage from St. Matthew, St. John the Baptist declares, among other things, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths.” Isn’t that a sign to us of what Advent means to us? Are you familiar with roads in the world that are filled with curves and hills? Depending on your age, you may be familiar with efforts to straighten those roads, perhaps even to build tunnels through those hills, so the journey is less treacherous and threatening.
That is part of our goal during Advent. With the coming of Christ imminent we want to work to rid our lives of the hills, valleys, curves, and twists in our lives. The readings on this Second Sunday of Advent speak of endurance and persistence to accomplish that.
The imagery found in the First Reading from Isaiah is rich and vivid and with much meaning. It opens with “On that day, a short shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” This is, of course, as Isaiah is wont to do, a reference to the Messiah, to the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is an interesting word picture. There is a bare and withered tree stump. It would seem that the stump will never again bear fruit, never again blossom in any way. Suddenly from the stump appears a small shoot which will grow and flourish.
Jesse was the father of King David, but the reading does not emphasize David. When Christ was born, as we all know, there was nothing royal about the birth or about the legacy it would produce and leave. Christ came from humble beginnings and that is part of this message.
Our Second Reading is drawn from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Within that reading Paul speaks of glory and praise and by implication from those — joy. Those are words we associate with this time of year, are they not? Next weekend, the Third Sunday of Advent, is a time when we emphasize that joy we should be feeling and anticipating. However, as part of our Advent journeys we need to seek that sense of gladness now.
The way to do that is by emulating Christ, by reaching out to one another, by welcoming one another, just as Christ reaches out to us and welcomes us. How carefully do we really consider this sense of gladness at this time of year? It is more than anticipation. It is the hope of Christ’s promises and what His Coming truly means to us.
An entire reflection might be written on any one of several sentences and phrases from today’s Gospel Reading from St. Matthew. Consider these examples: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” or “…a voice of one crying out in the desert” or “I am baptizing you with water…but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
It all comes down to the fact that John the Baptist is a witness for Christ. He is the kind of disciple we need to be. Witnessing is an important part of stewardship, and it is something we all need to practice and be willing to do. St. John the Baptist was more than an effective witness, however; you might say that John was a living witness because of how he lived; the way he lived made people pay attention to him. He is incredibly real—the way he dresses, what he eats, the way he lives.
In the same way we are called to witness as John did, with our very lives. What people perceive us to be as Catholics and Christians is the most important stewardship witness we can offer. This Advent season is the time for us to make that commitment, that conversion. Like John we need to do more than preach the message; we need to be the message. Our beliefs, our faith, and our actions must always reflect that.