Advent 2, 5th Dec 21
Today we are confronted, big-time, with the Lord`s second cousin – once removed – St. John the Baptist who was the great forerunner of the Lord. Perhaps we need to take ourselves backward for a little to acknowledge the relationship between Jesus and his second cousin, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptiser. In years they were just six months apart. John, the son of the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. The Family lived in Ein Karem, a few miles from Jerusalem but they were very closely associated with the Holy Family of Nazareth. The young cousins, Jesu and John the Baptist would, in their young days as infants, would have known each other – played with each other when Mary, Joseph and Jesus would go up to Jerusalem for their annual duties. Did not Mary, having received the annunciation from the Archangel Gabriel, that she was to conceive and bear a son whom she was to call Emmanuel – God is with us, shortly afterwards, in her early pregnancy, choose to go to her cousin Elisabeth, an old woman naturally beyond the age of child-bearing, who had miraculously conceived a child from her husband the aged Zechariah – a priest of the Temple and of a holy priestly line.
The younger Mary, having just conceived the child of the Heavenly Father by the grace of the Holy Spirit wanted, naturally, in her youth, to go to the assistance of her aged pregnant cousin to help her. We are told that she stayed some three month – presumably until she was safely delivered of John. We are shown the warmth, familial love and generosity of the Mother of God.
I love the season of Advent and, not least its wonderful hymns as we enjoy this short season of looking forward, yes keeping the anniversary of the First Christmas but, even more importantly, looking forward to Our Lord`s coming again in his power and great glory at the end of time as the “Judge Eternal throned in splendour” as the hymn puts it. It is a season of expectancy and urgency!
John fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah, to prepare the way for Jesus as our Saviour. The call to repentance, a word which means a complete turn round to face the Lord God Himself by seeing, in our lives what needs straightening out. There is such wonderful imagery in this quotation from Isaiah – the filling in of the valleys and the levelling of hills which is itself a call to care about justice for all God`s people. We could say that John the Baptist, as he taught around the districts of the Jordan Valley, was advocating the level playing field for all, so that everybody has fair access to the amenities of this world. JB, in his simplicity of life, was against hoarding, domination and aggression and following Isaiah he offers the hope that “all people will see the salvation sent to us from our God.”
Here in the Northern Hemisphere Advent enters us in to the darkest part of the year and maybe the coldest and wettest part of the year and yet, as what physically surrounds works towards the shortest and darkest day of the year yet the message of Advent is a message of light – watch the advent wreath for every Sunday it gets lighter as we ignite each candle. Advent is the season of hope, that important virtue which is so much deeper that the optimism of temperament. Real Hope`s true object is union with God. And that Advent Hope is that God can bring life out of death and light out of darkness. And, of course, it is in the darkness of Winter that we need hope. We are moved to pray particularly for those going through dark days in this present time: people insecure in their jobs or their health or their home life, those in fear of the varieties of the present pandemic, displaced people and refugees who wait at barbed wire borders and fences simply hoping for a better life.
Today`s second reading from St. Paul`s letter to the Philippians, perhaps the most warm and loving of all his letters, was written in a dark place – a Roman prison, possibly in Ephesus, where he was in chains and not at all sure whether he would come out alive but his letter is full of thanksgiving and praise for their behaviour and their zeal for Jesus and the mission of that still very new Church.
Advent, apart from the sale of money-making Advent Calendars, most of which have more to do with commercialism than any preparation for Christmas or the Return of The Messiah, has been swamped by preparation for parties, buying of Christmas gifts and food etc. so that the real significance is trampled over by the secular world of commerce and big business. I did read a quotation which was “Who cares about Advent – it is only an unruly intruder on the way to Christmas.” Taken seriously and joyfully it brings that essence of humanity which is patience. Yes, it is very easy to be overwhelmed by the `fast lane of life.` Spent wisely it is a prayerful waiting upon God and a looking forward, considering the bigger picture of what is to come at the end of time and having a sense of enjoyment of the present moment rather than being worn down by it.
COVID-19 and its ever-changing manifestations has been a pre=occupation seemingly forced upon us but pandemics have come and gone throughout history. Of course we need to be both practical and aware of the situation not just for ourselves but for the common good and well-being of all but, that said, to get with life – life united to the Heart of our Saviour Jesus Christ and guided by the power of his Holy Spirit.
Perhaps we might do well to remember the last sentence spoken by Our Lord, as he ascended into Heaven, as recorded in verse 20 of chapter 28 of St. Matthew`s Gospel: `And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.`
Again. To set the stage for our better keeping of the rest of this season of Advent we might be mindful, for this week, if the response to today`s psalm at Mass: `The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.`