2nd Sunday of Advent (C)
Between Potholes and Reunions
Readings: Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6
Dear sisters and brothers, have you seen that commercial with the talking pothole? A stylish grey sports car goes over a pothole, bursts a tire, and comes to a standstill. Oh no! Did I do that? The pothole asks, in a charming southern accent. Let me get my cellular out and call you a wrecker. Oh shoot, I don’t have a phone. I’m a pothole! So… 'K, bye! Funny commercial. But not if you’re the driver of the sports car. Can you imagine how you must feel? Not only has the pothole damaged your precious car, even worse, it has kept you from reaching your destination. Maybe you were rushing home for dinner, or to meet some friends for a drink, or to the hospital where your wife’s in labor. The pothole has kept you from being reunited with the people you love.
And speaking of reunions, I’m reminded of a YouTube video about Hilda Schlick, a grandmother in Israel, who was recently reunited with her long lost brother, Simon. Hilda is a survivor of the Holocaust. After WWII, she had ended up in Israel, thinking that the rest of her family had been killed. Except that they hadn’t. Years later, using her maiden name, Hilda's grownup grandson makes a search on the internet, and discovers that Hilda’s parents and brothers had survived the Holocaust and settled in Canada, where one of her brothers still lives, along with many nephews and nieces and their children – a big family. Thanks to the efforts of Hilda's grandson, the terrible pothole of war and genocide, which had broken her family apart, was finally filled in. After 65 long years, Hilda and Simon enjoyed an emotional reunion in an airport in Israel.
Potholes and reunions: Aren’t these the things that our Mass readings invite us to reflect upon on this 2nd Sunday of Advent? For what do we find in the first reading, if not a disruptive pothole and a promised reunion? As a result of war, the city of Jerusalem has been separated from her children. They have been deported to a foreign land. But all is not lost. Through the prophet Baruch, God tells Jerusalem not to give up hope. For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that all the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God. Although her family has been broken apart by exile and war, God promises Jerusalem that God will fill in the pothole, that God will smooth out the road, and bring the exiles home. God will work to bring about a joyful reunion.
And what about us? Isn’t this piece of good news also addressed to us too? Aren’t there potholes among us today as well, obstacles that keep families apart? We may think immediately, of course, of the brave young women and men serving in our Armed Forces, who continue to have to leave their families in order to keep their country safe. But shouldn’t we think also of the countless nameless faces, the mothers and fathers, who have to separate themselves from their children in order to find work in a foreign land? Shouldn’t we think also of the terrible temptations that many of our young people have to face on a daily basis: the temptations of drink and drugs, of sex and violence? In our world today, isn’t it true that, among many other things, poverty as well as other social evils can be as disruptive of family life as war? Face with potholes such as these, we can often feel terribly helpless. We can even be tempted to give in to depression and despair. Even so, in this season of Advent, through our readings, God reminds us not to give up, but to keep on hoping. For although, on our own, we may not be able to fill in all the potholes on the highway of life, there is still something we can do.
We can start by taking care of another highway, by attending to that interior road that connects us to God. Isn’t this the message of John the Baptist in the gospel? A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low.” To even begin to see and to repair the many potholes on the highway of life, we must first patch up the ruptures in our relationship with God. It is only when we begin to fill in the holes in our hearts that we can receive the wisdom to see what needs to be done in our world, as well as the strength and courage to do it. Isn’t this also what the prophet tells Jerusalem in the first reading? How is she to regain her hope? She must first take off her robe of mourning and misery and put on the splendor of glory from God forever. She must first stand upon the heights and look to the east, to the rising sun, to see her children gathered from the east and the west. Isn’t this also what we are being asked to do in this season of Advent, to take off all the things that keep us from God and to put on Christ, to look to the rising Son of God?
And isn’t this also why, in addition to being a time of preparation, Advent is also a season of joy? Only this is a curious kind of joy. It’s the joy that children sometimes experience when you promise them a lollipop. They haven’t received it yet, but already they are happy. They are happy even while they wait, because they trust that their parents will not lie. For them, a promise is as good as its fulfillment. This is not unlike the joy that Paul talks about in the second reading. Although it’s not clear in the reading, because the relevant verse (v.7) has been left out, Paul finds himself in a pothole. He is writing from prison, separated from the community to whom he addresses his letter. And yet, Paul writes about joy. I pray always with joy in my very prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel…. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. Although kept apart from the people for whom he longs with the affection of Christ Jesus, Paul experiences joy when he prays for them, because he has confidence that God will continue to bless them. Although the pothole of prison prevents him from meeting them, his prayer enables him to enjoy a spiritual reunion with them in the Lord. And he writes to share with them this fruit of his prayer, his joy in the Lord.
Potholes and reunions: Isn't this what Advent is about? In the midst of our everyday busyness, aren’t we being called to allow God to fill in our potholes, to salvage the wreckages of our lives and our world, so that more of us might experience the joy of reunion, the same joy that is the gift of Christ at Christmas? If all this is true, then perhaps potholes can talk after all.
Sisters and brothers, what are your potholes saying to you today?