2nd Sunday of Advent – Year B
Fr. David Reitzel
Preached: Dec 10, 2017
Imagine yourself in the shoes of an Israelite in the time of the prophet Isaiah. The year is 587 BC. You and your family used to live in the glorious city of Jerusalem. You have fond memories of walking the streets of that city with your friends and family. You recall your frequent visits to the temple where you would pray for God’s blessings. You remember the feeling of safety provided by the large city walls and the feeling of comfort knowing that God was present among you in his temple.
But all of that is gone now. You no longer live in Jerusalem because that city no longer exists. It has been destroyed. The walls have been toppled, and the temple is no more than a pile of rubble. The place you live in now is Babylon, 1500 kilometers away. The people here, the Babylonians, are the ones who attacked Jerusalem, destroyed it, and brought you away as their slaves. You and your family work for them now, with no hope of salvation. You are now a slave. You will live a slave and you will die a slave. Your children will do the same, and your children’s children. And the irony is, you are God’s chosen people. So where is He?
Imagine how hopeless these Israelites must have felt as they looked at their situation, and saw no way out. Then imagine how their hearts must have lifted when they saw the prophet Isaiah walking through the streets of Babylon, telling everyone that he has received a message from God. For years God has been silent, but now he speaks, and what will he say? After gathering a large crowd around him, Isaiah opens his mouth and the words come out, “comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” After so much suffering and hardship, the first words that God wanted to speak to his children are words of comfort. And why should they feel comfort? Isaiah speaks again telling them, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” This can mean only one thing: God is coming. He has seen our suffering and heard our cries and now he is coming to save us. He will end our captivity in Babylon and bring us back to Jerusalem just as he had done centuries earlier with Moses in Egypt.
Imagine how the hearts of those Israelites must have been lifted as they heard these words of the prophet Isaiah. They now had hope, they now had something to look forward to. And indeed God did free them from exile.
In 539BC, 48 years after they entered Babylon, Israel was allowed to return home to the Promised Land. Once their, they started preparing the way of the Lord. They rebuilt the city, their homes, their walls, and most importantly their temple. They had prepared a place suitable for the lord to come, and once they had finished they waited, and waited and waited. Isaiah said that God was coming, but as the apostle Peter reminds us in our second reading, for God one day is a thousand years.
The people of Israel would have to wait another 500 years before their God fulfilled his promise. And when that time came a voice cried out in the wilderness saying prepare the way of the Lord. This voice did not come from the prophet Isaiah, but now from John the Baptist, who spoke about the immanent coming of Israel’s God. He encouraged them to prepare for their God by turning away from their sins.
You would think that everyone in Israel would have flocked to John. Here was a prophet telling them that their long awaited saviour, their God, was coming. But in reality, not everyone listened to John. After 500 years of waiting, some people’s hearts had grown dull, they had forgotten that their God was coming, or perhaps ceased to believe it. So when the saviour came, when Jesus made himself known, there were only some who followed him, the rest were uninterested and unprepared. They had missed the day of their Lord’s coming.
Advent is a time where we remind ourselves that we are like Israel who had to wait for the coming of their Lord. As Catholics we believe that God came 2000 years ago in Jesus Christ, but we also believe that He will come again, at a time we do not know and an hour we do not expect, and that will mark the end of time. It is precisely our ignorance of the day that makes us like Israel. We must wait, patiently, always being prepared. Will he come today, tomorrow, in 500 years, at the end of this Mass? We do not know. What we do know is that he is coming, and we want to be prepared. The words of Isaiah are for us as well. Prepare the way of the Lord.
While we hold ourselves in readiness all year round, advent is a special time of focus on preparing for our Lords coming. We go to confession, we say extra prayers, we go to Mass more often. All of these things are to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.
However, there is one temptation that I would like to speak of. I know you don’t need to be reminded that the lead up to Christmas is the busiest time of the year. And to hear a priest say that you need to do even more things is probably not the most welcome message but, may I try to help put things in perspective. As you run around this advent, as you prepare for parties, shop for gifts, and decorate just about everything, can you take a moment, stop, and ask yourself, “How does this prepare a way for the Lord? If Christ were to come at the end of today, would I still do what I am doing right now?” And if you’re not satisfied with the answer, then drop what you’re doing, and prepare for the way of the Lord.