Sunday, December 7, 2008

Second Sunday of Advent

Dear All,

The people of the First Reading (from Isaiah about 8th Century BCE) had hit the wall.  In their worst nightmare, they never thought their lives could get so bad.  While they were the Chosen People, and although they celebrated their deliverance from Egypt every Passover, they still pushed God out of their lives.  They had become successful and wealthy.  They thought they had less need for God and almost forgot Him.  Then, they bottomed out.  First the Northern Kingdom, Israel, was defeated and taken into captivity by the Assyrians.  Then the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom, Judah.  The people were led off into slavery and were forced to live in a pagan land.  In their poverty they became rich.  Having their identity stolen from them made them more devout followers of Yahweh, even in Babylon, far from the land He had given them.  They had no power except their faith in the All Powerful One.  God sent His prophet, Isaiah to preach consolation for Israel:  “…give comfort to my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to them that their service is at an end, their guilt is expiated.”  George Frideric Handle in 1741 during his London residence created a beautiful tenor aria for the Oratorio “The Messiah.”

Over and over in the history of God’s people as well as in many of our personal lifes, the events that led to Babylon are repeated.  But when we put our complete faith in God, we also receive deliverance from our perils.  When we think that we have it all and allow evil into our lives, we can destroy ourselves… by relying solely on our own abilities instead of the Power of God. But when we bottom out finding ourselves completely alone, through prayer we come to the Wisdom that we are only alone if we forget about Him who said He’d always be with us.  There is nothing that we might have done which excludes us from His compassion and consolation… nothing that the Lord does not want to forgive, if we ask for it.  St Augustine wrote in 4th Century AD, "The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works." 

  “Prepare the way of the Lord,” both Isaiah in the First Reading and John the Baptist in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel proclaim.  Let us help others to realize that they are loved by their God.  In this season of gift giving, we can give a wonderful gift, the reassurance that Jesus loves them

In the Second Reading St. Peter reminds us that God's time is different from ours. "With the Lord, … one day is like a thousand years".  Peter urges us to be patient because God is patient with us.  Patience is such an important virtue. It means waiting, sacrificing some immediate satisfaction for the sake of a greater good.  Impatience, on the other hand, is the unwillingness to wait, wanting it all right now.  Psychologist talk about immediate need gratification.  While natural and common in little children, it can become a central cause for many of our problems as we grow into adulthood.

This Advent we are invited to examine our conscience in terms of patience.  In Mark’s Gospel we read that people “acknowledged their sins” when John baptized in the Jordan river. When you think about it, almost every sin involves a lack of patience. For example loosing our temper, maybe flying into road rage shows a glaring lack of patience.  Stealing and cheating are also sins of impatience:  Rather than working hard, a person simply wants to grab things.  Returning to the basics - and there is no virtue more basic than patience, does bring great rewards.  It means discipline, hard work, sacrifice, waiting for the right moment.   Advent is a time for precisely that - to learn patience.  It is a season of "waiting in joyful hope."

Today we light the second candle for peace on the Advent Wreath.  Some sources suggest the wreath, now reinterpreted as a Christian symbol, was in common usage in the Middle Ages, others that it was not established as a Christian custom until the 16th century in Germany.  In its modern form it was invented in the 19th century by Johann Hinrich Wichern, a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor, as a way to count the days of Advent towards the Christmas feast.  During Advent, children at a mission school founded by Wichern in Hamburg would ask daily if Christmas had arrived.  In 1839, he built a wooden ring (made out of an old cartwheel) with 19 small red and four large white candles.  A small candle was lit successively every weekday during Advent.  On Sundays, a large white candle was lit.  Eventually, the custom became popular in Protestant and Anglican churches and later in Roman Catholic churches in the United States. More recently, some Eastern Orthodox families have adopted an Advent wreath with six candles symbolizing the longer Advent season in Orthodox tradition.

I realize today’s column turned out a bit on the heavy side.  On a lighter note, a joke related to Peter’s notion of time in our Second Reading.  Somebody was praising God and asking if in His infinite wisdom a thousand years were just like a second.  God agreed that yes, a thousand years are like one second for Him.  Furthermore the person asked if in his infinite power a million dollars weren’t just like one penny.  God acknowledged that yes, a million dollars are just like a penny to Him.  To this the person asked for merely one penny.  To which God answered:  “Sure, in a second”

A complete text of the readings at:

With God’s Love and Blessings,


No comments:

Post a Comment