Reflection: Second Sunday of Advent

By: Sister Helen Mueting | December 10, 2017

The readings from Malachi 3:1-4 and Mark 1:1-8 tonight entreat us to prepare a way for the coming of the Lord. In this season of anticipating the joys of Christmas, we sometimes forget that preparing is not about decorating, sending Christmas cards, singing carols or planning festive meals. The reading from Malachi reminds us that the coming will not be easy for us. It even asks us if we can endure it. For God will come like a “refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” A refiner’s fire is meant to burn away impurities, and a launderer’s soap rubs out all dirt. Pain is involved in both processes. They are forms of dying to bring about something new. God’s coming is painful because it calls for a dying and rising within us.

John the Baptist in the second reading calls this way to prepare repentance. The most common meaning of repentance is to “to turn” or “return.” It means to turn from evil and return to good. In tomorrow’s first reading, Isaiah invites people to return by making a straight highway. He talks of filling valleys, lowering mountains, smoothing rugged and rough land. How does this happen and how does it tie in with our repenting, our turning our lives? What valleys in our lives need to be filled in? Perhaps we have allowed ourselves to be withdrawn or joyless. Maybe we have created our own valleys of darkness rather than valleys filled with growth, hope and joy. At times we may want to give up because we don’t see ourselves making progress. We seem to do those things we want to change over and over again, failing to overcome our weaknesses.

What rough ways need to be smoothed? Do we become irritable and impatient with others and ourselves? Do we seek ways of avoiding people or fail to recognize ways we can help others? What mountains need to be lowered? Have we set ourselves up as better than others or have we made a bad situation worse when we cling stubbornly to our own ideas, refusing to hear another’s ideas or needs?

In the New Testament, the key term for repentance is metanoia, which has two meanings: “a change of mind” and “regret/remorse.” Repentance is both an awareness of our failings and our sins as well as remorse for them. Because we see how our behaviors have negatively affected others, we regret having done them and like the Prodigal son or David in the Old Testament, we choose to begin again, to once more make our paths smooth. It won’t be easy, nor will it be permanent, but we keep starting over, making a little more progress each time. We move through a Baptism of repentance to openness to a Baptism of the Spirit, to a belief that if we have remorse, God will welcome us with open arms like the father welcomes his prodigal son, like the shepherd gathers the lambs to his bosom. We will have made “ready the way of the Lord and cleared a straight path” for him. The refiner’s fire will have burned away all that impedes us from welcoming “the day of the Lord.”