The Second Sunday of Advent [B]
Isa 40:1-5,9-11 + 2 Pt 3:8-14 + Mk 1:1-8
December 10, 2017
“A voice of one crying out in the desert: ….”
Most of us have driven through western Kansas. As you drive, and drive, and drive, one thing that’s easy to appreciate is the flatness of the terrain and straightness of the roads. There are few surprises. These roads stand in sharp contrast to the paths through western Colorado. I-70, which is so predictable through western Kansas, begins to wind and curve, bobbing up and down as you pass through Denver and into the mountains. It begins to make very serious demands on a driver, whereas through most of western Kansas you can almost set your car on auto-pilot because the path is so straight.
“A straight path” is the image the Scriptures turn our gaze to on this second Sunday of Advent. We know that the goal—the destination—of our whole life on earth is Heaven. We know that we are to spend our life on this earth loving and serving God and neighbor, so that we will be ready for Heaven when God calls us.
But too often in life, we get obsessed with how fast we’re going. We get obsessed with moving for the sake of moving. Yet one of the lessons of Advent is that in our spiritual lives, the direction of our lives is far more important than the speed with which we’re moving. Many years ago, I attended a meeting of high school parents with school administrators. There’s only one thing said that I remember. A father who had served as an Air Force pilot commented on how he thought high school students made their lives more difficult than necessary because, as he put it, they were “all velocity and no vector”. Is that how we are in the spiritual life? If so, we’re headed for disaster.
Saint Thomas Aquinas said something similar: “If, then, you are looking for the way by which you should go, take Christ, because He Himself is the way…. It is better to limp on the way than run off the way. For a man who limps on the way, even if he only makes slow progress, comes to the end of the way; but one who is off the way, the more quickly he runs, the further away is he from his goal.”
In our Old Testament reading we hear Isaiah prophesying 700 years before the birth of Jesus. He proclaims the same message as John the Baptist. The heart of their message is this: the most profound journey in life is a journey inward. As we travel by means of God’s grace a straight path into the human heart, we can expect to find there the very God who created that heart. But to find Him there, we must face two dilemmas of our own making.
Only within our hearts can we find God, and give ourselves to Him in that place of encounter. Yet when we quiet ourselves, and enter into our hearts, we first realize that our heart is given over to so many other things. The greatest struggle, the greatest battle in our spiritual life concerns not our neighbor, not our boss or co-workers, our teachers or classmates, not our spouse or our children or parents. The greatest struggle in our spiritual life arises from the fact that I have not given my own heart completely to God.
Worse yet is that we’ve given our human hearts over not only to distractions, but to sin. If we spend these weeks of Advent moving outward in all directions, searching for the meaning of Christmas as we journey to the mall to shop, or to the next party to socialize, that road toward Christmas will wind and curve and bob, distracting and tiring us. During this season of Advent, we heed the call of Isaiah and John the Baptizer by making straight a path into our hearts. That means clearing it of the debris of sin, looking seriously at ourselves and asking what changes we need to make to accept Christ the Lord as a newborn king: a king who wishes to die for us, so as to return our hearts to us pure and focused on what is truly important in life.