Sunday Sermon for December 5, 2021, the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

Readings: Bar 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-6, 8-11; Lk 3:1-6

In the readings today, we hear the same basic message from three different sources.  The words of the Prophet Isaiah are applied to St. John the Baptist regarding his purpose and his message: “every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill made low.  The winding roads shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth.”  The same points are also made by the Prophet Baruch in the first reading. 

One can certainly understand the idea of the exiles returning to Israel and God making everything flat and straight so the journey will be an easy one.  This can all be understood in contrast to the journey the people in Israel made on their way out of the Holy Land and into Babylon.  Then they were grieving; they did not want to go, and every step must have seemed like they were walking uphill.  Now, they would be returning with great joy and anticipation.  No obstacle would seem difficult to overcome.

However, when St. John the Baptist was proclaiming these things about himself, there was no one who was coming back from exile.  He was preparing the way of the Lord and, in this way, he was preparing the people to come back to the Lord.  In other words, the exile was more spiritual than physical.  The mountains, valleys, winding roads, and rough ways must reflect an interior exile; they are the very means by which people have wandered from the Lord.

Understood this way, the words certainly apply to us today.  How many ways have we strayed from the straight path of the Lord?  How many ways have we wandered aimlessly in our sinfulness and selfishness in the barrenness of our interior desert?  In order to see St. John the Baptist, the people had to go out into the wilderness.  For the people who lived Jerusalem it was about twenty miles down a steep road to the area outside of Jericho.  The trip home would have been very difficult.  In other words, being out in the wilderness, no one was going to come upon John the Baptist by chance.  They had to make a concrete choice and put forth a lot of effort.

We do not have to travel twenty miles to hear the Baptist, but the journey into our hearts can seem a lot more grueling than twenty miles up a mountain.  Our task is to prepare our hearts for the Lord.  We must be prepared to meet Him whenever He calls us.  When His first followers (John and Andrew) asked our Lord where He remained, He answered “Come and see.”  This is an invitation to enter inside and find our Lord there, dwelling in the inner most place of our soul.  It is a challenge to get there, with the necessity to overcome our sins, to grow in virtue, and to develop the intimate relationship with Jesus that He desires and invites us into.

In the second reading today St. Paul says something that, on the surface, seems to make no sense.  He prays that our “love may increase more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value.”  Love is the activity of the will whereas knowledge is of the mind.  How can love grow in knowledge?  Love itself does not grow in knowledge; rather, love brings one deeper into the depths of the Beloved.  The deeper one enters into the depths of another person, the more one knows that person. 

Jesus calls us to enter into our own selves in order to enter into Him.  He is in the depths of our persons, so before we can enter into the depths of our Lord, we must enter into our own self.  This will bring us self-knowledge regarding our sinfulness, our selfishness, our weaknesses, etc.  As we work to overcome our faults and failings, we move more deeply into the depths of the Lord.  The deeper we enter into Him, the more we come to know His love, His strength, His truth.  As we do this we become more and more conformed to Him and we grow in love for Him. 

Perhaps we can understand the mountains, valleys, winding roads, and rough ways as the obstacles to union with Jesus in our own hearts.  St. John the Baptist went into the desert to remove anything that hindered him from loving God more.  He literally went to the lowest spot on earth (2000 feet below sea level) to make a smooth and level place for the Lord.  We do not need to go to the lowest place on earth, we simply need to go into the depths of our hearts.  There Jesus is waiting; there Jesus is calling.  Enter in, remove the obstacles, and prepare the way of the Lord!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.

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