2nd Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 84; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8
Our concept of what we refer to as the “spiritual life” is all too often communicated by a “mountain that we need to climb.” This is not a bad image but as with all metaphors it can be easily misunderstood. It can all too easily give us the idea that God is somehow “out there” or “up there” waiting for us to ascend to him.
This image while not wrong is really not the biblical view of our relationship with God (what is also called “the spiritual life”). The biblical view refers to the primacy of grace. Namely that God’s initiative is always first. In our overly independent society we tend to think we have to make ourselves appealing to God. This is completely wrong and upside down. The bible is clear that it is always God’s initiative; God is always the one who is approaching us. We do not and in fact cannot approach God on our own initiative; God is the one who approaches us!
Listen to how Isaiah the prophet speaks to his people (and keep in mind this is God speaking to you and me in our day): “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…” God is telling his people that he is coming to them … it is not they who are going to him. And so they must make a straight way for God to come to them. For the people of Isaiah’s day this was very real as the way between Babylon and Jerusalem was not a smooth journey. They had to clear things along the way. This is the image that God presents to us on this 2nd Sunday of Advent. We are now in the thick of Advent and those messages I spoke about last Sunday are turning up their volume: Fear all things COVID; Buy more than you need or even want because it makes you feel better; Watch and prepare for the “Coming One.”
Think of God not as some one on the top of a mountain that we have to climb up to in order to get to him but rather think of God as a helicopter who wants to land in your area and rescue you from your enemy and He is unable to because there is so much debris that a landing isn’t possible. You and I need to clear the landing area, make it a place where it can land — a place where God can land and do what he wants to do —— come to you and rescue you and me. The work that the Reading’s remind us we need to do during this season of Advent come through clear with Isaiah and John the Baptist – “make straight the way of the Lord” which is the Bible’s way of telling us that we need to get rid of the obstacles preventing God from being with us. This is where what we call detachment comes in. This word is not understood by many and perhaps turns others off but it is not all that scary once we spend a little time thinking about it and unpacking it.
The first thing to be said is that we do not initiate and in fact do really cannot – God initiates, God comes to us, God wants to be with us. We have to do our part but the real fruitfulness of it is “done by the Lord.”
The second thing we need to focus on is what does it mean to “clearing the land” so that the helicopter (God) can land and rescue us? This is where it might get a little scary for some people but if you just persevere a little you realize how freeing it is.
St Theresa of Avila gives some very wise advice about clearing the land – I will focus on just one of them. She says: we need to have detachment from all that the soul holds worthwhile, because unless we are willing do this our lives are going to ruled by fear, and fear is the chief activator of our faults. What are examples of this? What are ways that we can clear the ground so God can land and comes to us – being liked too much, being in charge, being praised, liking food or our own opinion too much. Think of how these things can clutter our heart, enslave us, keep us down and choke off freedom. If we are willing to really think about it (and this is where we can examine our conscience so we can really see what needs to be cleared away for the great landing of God) we will see how they prevent God’s grace from rushing into our lives and giving us the freedom that only God can give and wants to give us.
The wise St Theresa is not about getting rid of things or people or distancing ourselves from them but rather of allowing the primacy of God’s grace to be present in our lives. This is the only way that Advent is going to be a spiritually fruitful time for us. And here’s the thing: the messages that I spoke about last week “Fear and Buy” – if we clear the ground then fear goes away and buy is put in check. We have more peace in our lives and a readiness for God. End result — is that we are MORE HUMAN and much happier. We want to make time for Mass (these days) in real time when it is streamed, for confession when we can go or private prayer we can enter into every day in our homes. We are looking for ways to help and assist others – we are intentional about it — again, The Door Is Open or Covenant House here in Vancouver or other worthy charities for the poor and street people.
Advent – let us see where we can clear our landing area (our hearts) so that God can land and you just see … how much happier you and I will be!