|Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not! Here is your God....
Second Week of Advent: Dec. 6-12, 2009
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Second Week of Advent
"Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever." Those words from Baruch are in the first reading for the Second Sunday of Advent. Luke's Gospel offers us a first look at the promise of John the Baptist as he cries out, "Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Tuesday is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with its own special readings. On Saturday, in most of the Americas, it is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
We focus on the first readings from the Prophet Isaiah this week. With the Babylonian Captivity, the temple was destroyed, the leaders of the people were taken away to Babylon and a remnant was left behind. A life-threatening desert separated the people. In this context, Isaiah proclaims God's vindication of the people in exile. The desert will be reborn. A highway will bring their liberation. And the signs will be that there is healing and peace. "Comfort, give comfort to my people," says the Lord. The valleys will be filled in, the mountains leveled - every obstacle will be overcome - to build a highway for our God to come and save us. The people can hardly believe the good news. They are weak and weary of their captivity. Isaiah proclaims, "They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings." The people have been at a distance from the Lord for some time and were not obeying the commandments. The Lord says, "I, the LORD, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go." The final first reading this week is from the book of Sirach in which the prophet Elijah is praised. Elijah, who was destined to come again to restore order before the day of the Lord, is also in the reading from Matthew's Gospel where he is seen as John the Baptist.
The gospels this week, taken from various evangelists, show Jesus as the fulfillment of the liberation promised. Jesus heals the paralytic. He tends to the lost sheep of his flock. He comforts us who labor and are burdened. Jesus teaches a true wisdom.
Sunday of the Third Week of Advent begins with the Prophet Zephaniah's announcement of liberation and God's presence among the people after decades of their own infidelity. In Luke's Gospel John the Baptist is the focus of the expectation in the people who come to him asking what to do. He exhorts them to integrity and charity and announces the one who is to come: "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Daily Prayer This Week
Finding intimacy with God in the midst of our busy lives begins with getting in touch with our own desires. Advent is a wonderful time to ask myself, "What am I looking for? What am I desiring? What longing can I recognize in my heart?" The answers to those questions will be our best guide for daily prayer. The readings this week offer some possible ways to talk with the Lord about our desires.
We can begin by trying to get in touch with a part of my heart that is divided, perhaps with a desert separating the two parts. For example, is there a disconnect between my primary commitments and the amount of time and attention that I give to them? Is there a distance between who I say I am and who I actually am? Do I experience something missing between what I believe and how I live those beliefs? We all have these contradictions and inconsistencies within us. These are the places into which we can let our Advent desiring grow. This week, we can imagine the prophet saying, "there will be a path between what is separate or divided or at a distance in your life!" "What is desert, barren, dry, life-less in you will come to life!" "You will find freedom and comfort, where you have been finding yourself in a captivity to pattern and routine, where you have felt weak and weary." "Learn from the Lord and learn real wisdom."
When one or more of these desires really strikes a chord in our hearts, Advent begins for us. Each morning this week, we can turn to our God, when we first wake up, while in the shower or getting dressed, and simply ask: "Come, Lord. Come into this place, into this embarrassing place of need in my life." We may be able to be specific and ask, "Please, Lord, come and be with me and bring life and hope into my morning as I face this meeting." As we go to work or do laundry or shop, or head home from work, we might ask even more specifically for the grace to love - to take the liberating journey across the desert and let the Lord bring us home to a place of comfort, healing and peace.
Advent is about our coming to a felt sense of our need for a Savior and letting our Savior into our hearts to save us. Advent comes alive for us as we identify our desires and let them be expressed as longing and expectant hope. Into this space our Lord comes with good news, healing and a peace the world can't give. As we taste our desires and longing grow, we can give thanks each evening before we go to bed, to acknowledge we are being given a great grace of a growing intimacy with our God, right in the midst of our very busy days.
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