The Second Sunday of Advent
THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Is. 40: 1-5, 9-11 2Pet. 3: 8-14 Mk. 1: 1-8
If properly approached, our moments of pain and suffering can be the instances of God-experience.
a). Problem of Slavery:
It was a moment of slavery for the Israelites under the Babylonians. They were taken as captives to Babylon and they had to undergo a lot of oppression in various spheres – economical, social, religious and cultural. And it was also a moment of meaningless and desperation for them. It was at this moment the second-Isaiah (Deutro-Isaiah) did his ministry. (It has to be noted that the Scripture scholars divide the book of Isaiah into three parts. The chapters from 1 to 39 comprise the first part, the chapters from 40 to 55 the second part, and the rest (56 to 66) the third part. The contents of writings reveal that the first part belongs to the pre-exilic period, the second part to exilic period and the third part to post-exilic period. It is surmised that these three parts were written by three different persons, with the same name Isaiah.)
The exilic prophets who did their ministry during the slavery of the Israelites in Babylon, had to give them a lot of hope. It was not just a false hope, but a realistic hope that they would be redeemed. Their primary job was to give the people hope so that they would believe that what has happened would not continue for ever. There would be an end to it. It is against this background we need to read the verses of today’s first reading. The words ‘wilderness’ ‘valley’ ‘uneven ground’ ‘rough places’ refer to the oppression, the Israelites had been subjected to. As wilderness is devoid of water, their life was devoid of happiness and freedom. As a valley is a deep pit with a lot of hollowness, the life of Israelites was empty and hollow. An uneven ground and rough place are something which are not smooth and by which it is very difficult to walk by, so also the life journey of the Israelites had become increasingly hard and difficult.
b). Twofold Message:
At this moment of misery and turmoil, Isaiah, at the instruction of the Lord, tried to communicate two important messages to the Israelites. Firstly, he gave them hope that things would be all right soon. When Isaiah said that there will be a highway for God in the desert and every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain, what he might have communicated to his people was that the oppression which was responsible for all sorts of suffering, ups and downs etc., would be removed and they would be set free.
Secondly, Isaiah told them that the Israelites would have the chance to experience the glory of the Lord: “Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.” What Isaiah seems to communicate is that, though on the one hand they suffer a lot, but on the other hand, their oppressive situation will also become an ambience to experience God’s glory and His workings.
One of the things the Spiritual authors inform us is that a person is well-disposed to experience God, not during the moments of comfort and pleasure, but during the moments of agony and anguish. For example, St. John of the Cross had to undergo a lot of trials and tribulations in the hands of his own friars. He was secluded and underwent imprisonment for about nine months. He was not offered proper food; the room was very small and unventilated; not much of cloth was offered to him protect himself from severe cold. However, it was during these moments of utter loneliness and complete desolation, he wrote his sublime poetry, which are expressions of his deep experience of God. He later wrote commentary to these poems and these poems and commentaries are enshrined in his well-known books: ‘The Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night of the Soul, The Spiritual Canticle.’ His poems are so sublime in nature that they won for him the title, ‘Patron of Spanish Poets’ in 1952, and is still considered to be the National Poet of Spain. The point here is that it was during the moment of acute agony and sever desperation, he experienced the profound abiding presence of God.
c). The Process of Repentance
Today, our situation may be different. We may not experience the direct political slavery like the Israelites, and may not be completely secluded like St. John of the Cross. But it is a fact that we have got our own moments of loneliness and suffering. It is also true that we are suffering from other forms of internal slavery, which does create a lot of meaninglessness and void in our lives. Though the comforts are more today, the inner void is much deeper and stronger.
Today, we are called to become aware that these moments of suffering, meaninglessness, if they are properly approached and processed, can be the moments of God-experience. All that we are supposed to do is that we become more and more aware of the misery that we have created for ourselves in the name of seeking comfort and happiness and surrender ourselves into the hands of God. This is what repentance is.
Repentance basically means realizing that our comfort-seeking and pleasure-seeking ways are not bearing any fruit, rather they create a lot of trouble. On becoming aware of this, we are called to turn to God who alone is the source of real happiness. In fact, prophets made it very clear to the Israelites the reason for their slavery and oppression was their conscious choice to turn away from God and to seek happiness from the sources, which were not in accordance with the will of God. Repentance is the realization that our hearts have not been created for material pleasure and the material world cannot satiate the deep longings of our heart. It was the message St. John the Baptist was communicating to people. He was constantly telling people that it was high time that they turn to Jesus, the Son of God.
Today’s second reading gives us the hope that God patiently waits for our return. He knows that in the name of seeking happiness, we ruin our lives. However God is patient enough and he is waiting with an open arm that one day we will understand the insanity of seeking happiness in wrong places. Though our happiness is misguided and misdirected, God patiently waits so that nobody is ruined. It is the hope of God that every human being would turn to Him one day.
Loving Father, help us to realize that by turning away from you, we turn away from the source of fullness and joyfulness, Amen.