The Sunday Project

In the Desert Prepare the Way of the Lord!

Second Sunday of Advent |

By Michael Caffery
Person walking in a desert
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First Reading
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.

Second Reading
2 Peter 3:8-14

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

Gospel Reading
Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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I always was taught in Catholic school that there were two comings of Christ- once 2000 years ago, and once in the future at the end of all things. I see things a bit differently now. If you ask me, Jesus has the opportunity to come into our lives all the time. And for me Advent has always been a time to celebrate that awesome reality of God accepting our invitation into our lives here and now- our preparing a way for Them.

But this isn’t as simple as just “accepting Him as our Lord and Savior”. The coming of Christ comes with changes. To paraphrase Isaiah in this week’s first reading, it involves tearing down mountains, lifting up the lowlands, and just massive shaking-up of the status quo. How exciting! When I hear that reading, I can’t help but think of the words of our mother Mary in the Magnificat:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has looked with favor on His humble servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed,
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His Name.
He has mercy on those who fear Him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of His servant Israel
for He has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise He made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.
Amen, Alleluia.

When has this not been a salient message? It’s a reminder of what the coming of God into our lives and into the world really means: equalizing inequalities. Righting wrongs. Doing the hard work of changing the parts of ourselves that are not in alignment with God. And letting those changes carry forth in our work of building the kingdom of God, of creating a more just and more harmonious world.

And God, that’s hard work. Not to be “like that”, but it’s hard now more than ever. Wars throughout the world, horrifying detention camps at my country’s border, a worldwide pandemic. A new world with new rules that prevent us from spending time with our loved ones, sharing our faith, experiencing communion. Even people like me who have a lot of privileges and blessings are prone to be in a bit of a spiritual wasteland right now.

And yet Isaiah seems to think we have reason for hope. Because he tells us to prepare a way for the Lord in the most unlikely of places—a desert. A wasteland! Maybe Isaiah wants to tell us that in the midst of all the trials and desolations, seeds are being planted for something better, something holy.

It’s not just scripture that’s telling me that, it’s also my own life experiences. I have a history of severe depression, a dark mental place that I thought I’d never escape from. Looking back on that time, I can see that even then, God planted the seeds in me for the wonderful life that I have now. In that desert, a way for the Lord ended up being prepared in my life, against all odds.

Is it naïve then to believe- to Hope- that these many “deserts” will be the starting points for the coming of God into the world, in better ways than we could imagine? Maybe so. But I’m not ready lose that Hope just yet.

So I’m spending this Advent excited and optimistic. Somehow I’ve got confidence that in the midst of this spiritual wasteland a highway for our God will be made straight (or made queer?). And not only that, I’ll try to use my little corner of existence to build God’s kingdom. To exalt all those valleys and bring down the mountains and be that voice crying out for others “In the desert prepare a way for the Lord!”.

Who’s with me?