SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT – Preparing a way for the Lord.
INTRODUCTION AND CONFITEOR
Today in the liturgy we hear again the lonely voice of John the Baptist exhorting us to prepare a way for the Lord. At the start of this celebration let us create a little space so that the Lord can come to us. [Pause].
John asked the people to repent. Let us now repent of our sins, confessing them and humbly asking forgiveness for them.
I confess to almighty God etc.
HEADINGS FOR READINGS
First Reading (Isaiah 1121-10). This reading talks about the coming of the Messiah, and the two great gifts he would bring, two gifts the world desperately needs, namely, justice and peace.
Second Reading (Romans 15:4-9). This talks about the importance of hope, and how we should treat others in the same friendly way in which Christ has treated us.
Gospel (Matthew 321-12). We hear once more the voice of John the Baptist, saying to us what he said to his contemporaries: ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.’
People are turning away with bitterness from the saturation of promises. Yet the Advent readings glitter with bright promises of the wonderful things that would accompany the coming of the Messiah. Mountains would be leveled out, valleys ﬁlled in, winding roads made straight, the desert would bloom, the poor would see justice done, the weak would no longer be exploited, war would be banished from the face of the earth and so on and so forth.
What a rosy picture they paint! But Christ has come and, to all intents and purposes, little seems to have changed. So we might well ask: what has become of the great promises? Were they mere mirages? Look at the state of the world. Famine still plagues mankind, the poor are still exploited, and world-wide peace is still a dream. The following parable might sum it up.
A kind landlord rented out a semi-detached house to two families. The house was large and had ample room and resources. There was no reason why the families should not have been able to live side by side in peace and prosperity. From the beginning, however, each family was unhappy at having to share the house. Overcome by greed and lust for power, they soon were barely on talking terms. The dividing wall was thin enough to allow them to hear, but not to understand, what was being said on the other side.
Each tried to outdo the other in improving their material lot. Now the house had a large basement which was also divided in two. So they decided to take in poor tenants, not out of charity, but to bring in revenue for themselves. As time passed their mutual suspicion grew. Each family was convinced that the other was planning to break through the dividing wall and kill them in their beds. So they built up a battery of alarms, and installed expensive booby traps and explosive devices, which would enable them to destroy their neighbours utterly should they ever attempt to break through the wall.
The cost of all these devices was very great. Where did the money come from? Mostly from the high rents they charged their basement tenants. Instead of using this money to fix up the basement, which was in a terrible state of neglect, they poured it into more sophisticated defensive devices. Naturally the tenants lived in fear, for if an explosion occurred, they would suffer the most.
While the families upstairs lived in great comfort, the tenants downstairs lived in overcrowded squalor. Their children got sick and several of them died in infancy. But those above were too busy watching each other to notice. In winter the basement became an icebox. The tenants complained. As a concession, those upstairs turned up the electric heating. But heat does not travel down. It rises up, so the only ones to beneﬁt were those upstairs. In the end, the tenants had no choice but to take their axes and chop off pieces of the joists to build fires to keep themselves warm. Thus, while the two families continued to watch one another, and to strengthen their defenses, the poor tenants continued to hack away at the joists.
What will happen eventually? I don’t know. But one day, one or other of the families might trigger off their defenses and blow the whole house to smithereens. Or the poor tenants might cause the ﬂoors to collapse so that the house would crumble from underneath. Or then again, the landlord might return and ask those families to account for their behaviour.
I think this parable gives an accurate over-all picture of the world as we know it. Now suppose a messenger was sent to tell those families to give up their stupid jealousies and greed, and calling on them to open their hearts to their poorer brothers and sisters, would they listen? I don’t know, but Christians must be this messenger. But of course if they themselves are part of the problem, it is unlikely that they will become part of the solution. It is possible to dream about justice, while being a source of injustice oneself.
The world has become an awful void, an appalling wilderness. Yet many Christians remain silent, passive, and apathetic. As for the wonderful promises of the prophets, Christians seem to be indifferent to them. But they are not just promises. They are judgments too. God’s judgment hangs over the world. The axe is laid to the root of the tree. These wonderful promises are inﬁnitely serious and must be taken so by all followers of Christ.
The new world (the Kingdom of God) was established first of all in Christ himself. He is the new creation. Here we have man restored to the true image of God. Then, through his words and deeds, Christ inaugurated the Kingdom in the world. Through his Church he continues this work. Christians then must not sit around waiting for these promises to fall from the sky. They are a blueprint of what mankind could achieve by the grace of God, given so lavishly in Christ.
The .world is crying out in agony. It cries out for salvation. It may not know where help is to come from, but Christians know. Christians are called to love mankind and to assuage its pain. The problems facing the world are enormous, but the resources are there. It is a question of sharing them and putting them to correct uses. Christians must not be afraid to speak out fearlessly against things such as the arms race and the hoarding of surplus food. Above all, Christians must not give up hope. But we must not depend on the hope of results, but on the rightness and truth of the work itself.
‘It is impossible to live when one is completely without hope.’ (Dostoyevsky);
‘Advent should remind us that the “King who is to come” is more than a charming infant smiling in the straw.’ (Thomas Merton).
PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL
Let us pray for the grace to be active in working for the new age of justice and peace the great prophet Isaiah spoke about and which Christ inaugurated. R. Lord, graciously hear us.
For the followers of Christ: that they may be effective witnesses to the values of the Gospel, and so help to build God’s Kingdom on earth. [Pause]. Lord, hear us.
For world leaders: that through goodwill and cooperation they may strive to put an end to war, poverty, and famine. [Pause]. Lord, hear us.
For all those who are the victims of injustice and discrimination. [Pause]. Lord, hear us.
That the faith we profess with our lips may be borne out in our deeds. [Pause]. Lord, hear us.
For local needs.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, clear a pathway in our hearts and in our world so that your Son can come to us, and the Good News may reach all your sons and daughters. We ask this through the same Christ our Lord.
SIGN OF PEACE
Isaiah said: ‘In those days, the wolf will live with the lamb, calf and lion cub will feed together with a little boy to lead them. They will do no hurt, no harm, on all my holy mountain, for the country will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.’ Lord, help us to know your ways, so that we may enjoy the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever.
We are all accountable, not just for our own sins,
but for everything and everybody.
When people understand this,
the Kingdom of God will no longer be a dream
but a reality.
In order to change the world,
people’s thinking must be changed.
There can be no brotherhood of men
until all men become brothers to one another.
There is no science,
no order based on the pursuit of material gain,
that will enable people to share their goods fairly,
and to respect each other’s rights.
For this heaven on earth to come about,
people must end their isolation.
In the end this will happen.
People will realise how unnatural it is for them to isolate themselves from one another, and they will look back in amazement at the time they sat in darkness and refused to see the light. Until that day comes we must keep hope alive, and now and then someone must set an example.