John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” —Luke 1:3-4
In a commentary on these well-known words from Luke’s gospel, the 3rd-century priest Origen reflected, “Is it not a way within ourselves that we have to prepare for the Lord? Is it not a straight and level highway in our hearts that we are to make ready? Surely this is the way by which the Word of God enters … Prepare a way for the Lord by living a good life and guard that way by good works. Let the Word of God move in you unhindered and give you a knowledge of his coming and of his mysteries.”
But how do we discern the good news of the Lord’s coming to us in a world of hashtags, sound bites, and blogs, in a world of competing viewpoints and clamoring voices? It can sometimes be difficult to discern what is really worthy of our attention. This is especially true in days when partisan politics dominates our newsfeeds and we try to make sense of senseless acts of violence and terror, on so many fronts. It’s easy to place blame, make excuses, and dig into our ideological trenches, all-too-often losing sight of the many goods—and lives—that are sacrificed on the altars of partisanship and policy.
There is a real danger in all of this: If we settle for the mediocrity of sound bites and half-truths, without seeking to discern what is truly important, we run the risk of losing sight of the hopes and promises that can only find fulfillment in a life committed to Christ.
While we may not often think of it in this way, Advent is a season of discernment.
We’re reminded of this in the Second Reading for this Sunday as we hear St. Paul’s words to the Philippians: “This is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (1:9-10).
Building on this theme, the words of the prophet Baruch and the clarion call of John the Baptist that we hear this Sunday remind us of what it is we are called to be and do. The Baptist’s cry of “prepare the way for the Lord” is a charge to discern the Lord’s voice calling out to us in the midst of the noise and clamor that fills our daily lives and to persevere in the way of faith.
Hearing the voice of the Lord in the distance demands action, but this isn’t only an invitation to turn away from personal choices and sins that may limit or even prevent God’s coming among us. John is also calling us to turn toward God’s mercy. And this turning—conversion—isn’t only about what we give up, it is really about accepting the gift that we are being offered.
This is why Pope Francis has reflected, “Let us ask ourselves: is it true that in the various situations and circumstances of life, we have within us the same feelings that Jesus has? Is it true that we feel as Christ feels? … We must always convert and have the sentiments that Jesus had.”
In the liturgy for this Second Sunday of Advent, we are being reminded that these days of Advent demand our attention and intentionality. It is only by creating the stillness and quiet—leaving behind the hashtags and sound bites—that we can discern the distant voice of the Coming One who brings the mercy and peace our world so desperately needs.
How do I understand conversion? Do I see it as moment in time or a way of life? How can I create a space of quiet and stillness to listen for the Lord’s voice during these Advent days? What do I hear the Lord inviting me to do? to become?
Words of Wisdom: “The voice commands that a way be prepared for the Word of God: the rough and trackless ground is to be made level, so that our God may find a highway when he comes. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’: the way is the preaching of the Gospel, the new message of consolation, ready to bring to all mankind the knowledge of God’s saving power.”—Eusebius of Caesarea
The beautiful symbolism of the Advent wreath