The message for this Second Sunday of Advent is one of hope. The readings demonstrate how we have good reason to hope in God because he always fulfills his promises.
When God’s covenant people heard they would be returning from their long Exile, it seemed like a dream (Ps. 126:1). This miraculous return to the Holy Land (the place of promise, rest and peace) brought joy to God (Bar. 5:9) and his people alike (Ps. 126). Joy is the first fruit of experiencing God’s saving love in our lives and this joy sustains us through all of life’s ups and downs. In fact, Hebrews tells us that this joy even sustained Jesus on the Cross (Heb 12:2). We rarely think of the Passion as a moment of joy, but it was for our Lord because he knew what it would accomplish for each one of us – our salvation.
This joy gave St. Paul the strength he needed to form many new communities in Christ. In the Second Reading, we learn that the partnership of those early disciples gave him the confidence to proclaim that “the One who began the good work in you, will continue to complete it (Phil. 1:6). He understood (and I hope we do too!) that we are a work in progress. That ongoing conversion happens as we walk the path to our heavenly homeland. We, like the exiles of old, are on a journey of joy. Our pilgrimage of promise is not to a sliver of real estate in the Middle East, but to a person: Jesus. He is the ultimate place of promise, rest and peace that the Holy Land symbolized.
The path isn’t always clear or easy. Apart from living in a society consumed with consumerism, there are more subtle, interior obstacles that can slow our path to peace. Things like unforgiveness, selfishness, greed, envy, or an absence of compassion in our daily interactions keep us from advancing toward Jesus.
Preparing the Way
Into this challenge steps the central character of this Sunday’s Gospel: John the Baptist. His message serves as a spiritual road grader that creates a clear, smooth, level, unobstructed road to our Lord (Luke 3:5). We enter his Highway to Holiness (Isa. 35:8) by heeding his simple cry of repentance. His ministry is an invitation to acknowledge our particular spiritual obstacles, turn from them, and advance with renewed joy toward the spiritual Bethlehem that lies ahead. This honest examination and elimination of what has been delaying or detouring us from the full freedom Christ wants us to each experience is indispensable.
Through this process of removing the spiritual obstacles that keep us from Christ, we must never lose our joy, as we share the confidence of the ancient Apostle, “the One who began the good work in you, will continue to complete it” (Phil 1:6).
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