Prepare ye the way of the Lord
Reflecting on the Second Sunday of Advent 2020 Cycle B
Now, I must confess that I rarely use the pronoun “ye” in a sentence. It brings up images of my King James bible (not prefaced by “New”) from my protestant beginnings, and silly pirate talk like “avast ye” from “talk like a pirate day” on the calendar. But it also recalls the clarion call we will hear as the opening to Mass today echoed from the musical Godspell—Prepare ye the way of the Lord. It makes me fondly remember an annual Godspell viewing. Our small faith community had many traditions which included a late-night brunch after the celebration of the Easter Vigil. When we finished eating, we would watch Godspell. As “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” is only the third song, most assembled would still be awake.
Advent is a distinct and important season to start the liturgical year. The metaphor of journey has been with us through this first week of Advent—the need to prepare, to not delay, to make straight the way of the Lord. There is an urgency—this is not the time to delay or wander ---not in this desert…the rocky, barren place of emptiness and fear—the place of unknowns—the place where we meet God if only we keep a singlehearted focus in God’s direction.
The first reading from Isaiah repeats the Morning Prayer reading of December 1—we have had a few days to absorb and enjoy the comfort and tenderness that begins the reading: Comfort, give comfort to my people…speak tenderly to Jerusalem. And then “a voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God.” Is 40:1
We all have our deserts and our wildernesses. I rather like wide open, endless horizons even if I am a confirmed tree-hugger, but the word “wilderness” begins with “wild” and that can trigger a sense of danger—by definition it is a place of no human presence, someplace unsettled. Deserts are places of dryness and shifting sands—not unlike the proverbial gyrovague Benedict warns us not to become or the experience of spiritual dryness referred to as a dark night of the soul. The prairie also has some characteristics of desert—an infinite horizon, but the sands are more akin to a blizzard in which blowing snow becomes the hazard to losing one’s way. In both, we can become disoriented.
In the reading from the Second Letter of St. Peter, we are called to holiness and also to patience—we are told how and why to wait. Now, I am not good at waiting—I never have been. It’s an area inviting further growth. My childhood and later memories are full of times when waiting was not just difficult but sometimes tortuous. The arrival of a beloved relative ushered in celebrations; summer vacation finally arrived.
As I grew older, I learned to appreciate the gifts of a process: pregnancy joyfully ends with childbirth, the big days in life finally arrive, years of classes ultimately yield degrees and then employment, long-awaited trips or projects finally materialize with a sense of wonder. Life-giving relationships and commitments take on depth and meaning over time; they have survived many tests of fire. Death is also a process—we learn to let go and support a journey back to our origin in God.
God sets a journey before us in Advent. Journey requires single-mindedness and single-heartedness. Journey requires a focus that is not prone to getting sidetracked by distractions—no matter how enticing. It’s easy to see Advent as pre-Christmas or the spiritual half of Christmas preparations, but it is important to stay in Advent until Christmas arrives. I also struggle with this waiting—my impatience rears its ugly head again.
John the Baptist sees his mission in the fulfillment of the promise proclaimed by Isaiah...the coming of the Lord. John sets the stage, preaches repentance and points the way for the coming Messiah. John is content that his journey is at an end, and the journey of Jesus is just emerging.