Sunday, December 06, 2020

Between Adventure & Nightmare

2nd Sunday of Advent (B)

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; Psalm 84(85):9-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

Picture: cc susanjanegolding

My dear friends, imagine for a moment that you are a little child on a family outing, and you get separated from your parents. How will you feel if you were to suddenly hear them calling your name, telling you it’s time to go home? How will you react? I’m not sure if you’ll agree with me, but I think your reaction will depend very much on your own awareness of being lost. For it may be that, even before hearing your parents calling, you had already realised they were missing, and had been frantically searching for them. If so, then their voices will bring you great relief. But it’s also possible that you did not realise you were lost, that you still thought you were on some exciting adventure, instead of being trapped in a fearful nightmare. If that’s the case, you may choose to ignore your parents, perhaps even decide to run farther away.

I mention this because, as I’m sure you’ve already noticed, in each of our Mass readings, there is a voice crying in the wilderness. In the first reading this voice takes the form of the prophet Isaiah, consoling a people living in the wilderness of exile. In the second reading, the voice is found in the writings of an unknown author, using the name of the apostle Peter, offering guidance to those confused by false teaching. And in the gospel, John the Baptist cries out, not just in a physical wilderness of locusts and honey, and a political desert of foreign occupation, but also the spiritual barrenness of sin.

No matter the exact form it takes throughout history, the voice crying in the wilderness indicates the various ways in which God, our loving and merciful Father, continually calls his wayward children to return. Encouraging them to welcome and to follow Christ, the Way that leads them home. To that glorious place where justice and peace have embraced. But each child reacts according to its own awareness of being lost. Some will eagerly heed the call, while others just keep insisting on going their own way.

And what about us? In what form might this voice be taking in our lives today? In what wilderness is it resounding? Very likely, each of us will have our own personal answers to these questions. Even so, it’s difficult not to think of the pandemic that continues to devastate our world. To see COVID-19 as a desert in which many remain lost. But isn’t it true that, if we were to listen carefully, we might yet hear a quiet voice calling to us in this viral wilderness? Reminding us that we were lost long before the infections began. Highlighting to us the often ignored fault-lines that fracture our apparently ultra-modern world. Painful divisions between rich and poor, elite and common, local and migrant… As well as between humanity and nature, between creature and Creator… Encouraging us to dare to imagine new heavens and new earth… Showing us how urgently we need to change the way we live…

If so, then perhaps it’s also true that how we respond will depend on our own awareness of being lost, our own willingness to see that our modern adventure has turned into a fearful nightmare for so many. Sisters and brothers, this Advent, what must we do to heed the call of our heavenly Father, and to wake from troubled sleep today?

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