Second Sunday Advent 2011 Mass and Reflections

Theme is Love

Scripture readings for the Mass can be found here along with various reflections from

This reflection on Advent Longing from Fr. Ron Rolheiser is a particularly fine one as is this one here.


Click here for reflections from last year's Second Sunday of Advent.

I find the readings this Sunday beautiful and also challenging.

The first one from Isaiah is pure balm : a tender God invites me in and welcomes me with love.

The soft and gentle words of the psalm and the cry of John in the Gospel that shattered the silence of the desert asks :

Are we all bad people who need redemption or are we all good people who need encouragement ?… both might be fair answers…but whether we are inherently good or bad we all need to change.

At the start of this second week of Advent these wonderful scripture readings invite me to consider how our world is able to hold and reveal the sacred in the ordinary events of life.

The infinite awesome power of a God that can level mountains is also the same compassionate God that loves us all as a shepherd loves his errant sheep.

These readings are part of the wonderful paradoxes found everywhere in Advent- the  infinite can always be grasped within the prosaic.

                                         A Young St John The Baptist from Simon K at Flickr

It's easy to be overwhelmed by the eccentricity and oddness of JohnThe Baptist depicted in Bible stories, to the extent that prophets become stereotyped as mad.
That is why I was drawn to this image of John as a child.

But there is still a sense of mystery in those youthful eyes that gaze out .

John the Baptist allows me to reclaim a sense of mystery, the term often referred to as numinous, which explains the felt presence of something that gives me an idea of the divine.

At what age I wonder, did John The Baptist know what he was preparing for; 

When did he realise his role as forerunner to Christ ?
When did he grasp that he was to be the unique pivot between the past present and  the future ? 
When did he know his cousin had a divine origin and mission ?

He was set apart to do a work for God even before he was born.
Elizabeth his mother said her baby leaped for joy when Mary visited her and told her of her own pregnancy and we are told that John was to be filled with the Holy Spirit even when he was in the womb.
I love the idea that the human connection of John and Jesus was forged in the womb !!

There is an English word "numinous ", that describes the power or presence of God.
The word was popularised in the early twentieth century by the German theologian Rudolf Otto in his influential book Das Heilige ,The Idea of the Holy, 1923). According to Otto the numinous experience has two aspects: mysterium tremendum, which is the tendency to invoke fear and trembling; and mysterium fascinans,, the tendency to attract, fascinate and compel. 

The numinous experience also has a personal quality to it, in that the person feels to be in communion with a wholly other.
As we begin to talk about God, all we are left with is our own stammering and stuttering. The flip side is the element of fascination, that in the presence of the wholly other there is something that strangely attracts us, fascinates us, draws us in.

John the Baptist  certainly has a numinous quality about him and I think this is captured perfectly in these paintings by Jack Baumgartner who kindly allowed me to reproduce them here. They are simply awesome.

I recommend you to his website here where you can see more of the results of his fantastic talent.

John The Baptist seems to be near a point of spontaneous combustion, so wonderfully carefree and untamed, non-politically correct, unafraid of anyone, willing to take risks, a true prophet who knew his true origins and where his life was ultimately going to. His lack of personal ambition meant he could give himself away for the sake of someone bigger than himself

It's easy to see how powerful an impression he must have made on the people at that time. and if he were around today he would probably be a public relations disaster.

About 2,000 years ago, John the Baptist shattered a biblical silence that had lasted over 400 years to express this message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” 

It took him thirty years to forge his true identity and mission in life.  The hot arid desert was the crucible where set apart from the world, he immersed himself in the sacred heart of God and emerged  filled with the breath and fire of the Holy Spirit.

John The Baptist

Here are the images of the adult John but there is something qualitatively different in his gaze:
Richard Rohr says "Jesus gives us an illuminating lens by which to see and measure all things and then we can see that Christianity is not a threat to human or cultural freedom." 

But yet I know that I can only ever in this life "see things through a glass darkly and it is only in eternity when I will see God face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

What strikes me in these images is that John's eyes have seen God face to face.
He  looks as if he has had a premonition of what lies ahead and the realisation of the awesome power of what will be unleashed.

While God's gifts are welcome, in fact they do disrupt. 
God's gift of truth disrupts our systemic mendacity that denies our lethal social practices. 
God's gift of generosity contradicts our parsimonious selfishness. 
God's gift of mercy interrupts our hard-hearted indifference.
God's gift of justice exposes our systemic injustice. 
God's gifts amount to an inconvenient reality among us; they remind us that what we have come to regard as 'normal' continues a deep abnormality in which we may have no complacency."
--Walter Brueggemann, Living the Word.

 Unfortunately, the character of John the Baptist has been copied and mimicked without the authenticity that he really embodied and this is expressed well in W.B. Yeats poem The Second Coming : 

"the best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity. "

History is riddled with examples of fire and brimstone evangelical pseudo- preachers who co-opted an image of John the Baptist without his true integrity and who spouted 
over - roasted and completely bogus imitations of Johns true message.

Two very different images pervade the scripture passages today : the solid safety and comfort of the Good Shepherd and its flip side : the wild untamed power of God and the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist was a realist . I like this quote :

"A realist is an idealist who has gone through the fire and been purified. 
A skeptic is an idealist who has gone through the fire and been burned."
Warren W. Wiersb

Jesus own words about John were "Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. ..."

So, one of the dramatic things we hear is Jesus telling us that Divine authority is squarely placed in the hearts of the least of human beings. That's all of us !!
John is the vital bridge that connects between the first and second coming of Christ.
In this second week of Advent he reminds me that the baby in the manger grew to be the Son of Man, and if I follow Him I will never be the same again.

 In perhaps one of the great statements in the Bible, and one that sums up our entire walk with God, John was able to say :He must become greater; I must become less. 

That is often a daily battle of wanting to be more and wanting Christ to be less !!

Like all true prophets John helps to see right through all forms of duplicity. 
John the Baptist is the patron saint par excellence of authenticity. 

 Brueggemann shoes how Decrease / Increase as a rule of life triggers deeply subversive responses to the life around us, and within us.
  • Decrease what is greedy, what is frantic consumerism, for the increase of simple, life-giving sharing.
  • Decrease what is fearful and defnsive, for the increase of life-giving compassion and generosity.
  • Decrease what is fraudulent and pretense, for the increase of life-giving truth-telling in your life, truth-telling about you and your neighbour, about the sickness of our society and our enmeshment in that sickness.
  • Decrease what is hateful and alienating, for the increase of healing and forgiveness, which finally are the only source of life

Walter Brueggemann, The Threat of Life.  

Combined in John the Baptist is the very paradox of Advent: the coming triumph of God manifest precisely in the darkness of the present evil age.

John the Baptist heard, experienced and lived God's liberating word in the wilderness and was able to preach it to others so effectively because his life and message were completely one. 

He certainly didn't mince words. He bursts on the scene and shatters the silence of the wilderness with his cry: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Not just "repent," change the way we live, clean up our act , but repent and prepare for the coming of the kingdom of heaven, which will upset all our securities and overturn anything we try to leave in place. 

Statue of John the Baptist by Auguste Rodin from here
  © Copyright Lynne Kirton and licensed for reuse 
under  Creative Commons Licence

The towering figure of John the Baptist and the magnitude of his ministry came not only from the greatness of the message, but also from the utter godliness of the man.

John had a divine revelation from God; he had a message. But more than that, the message had him.

We all have access to the Word of God—but what is our message ?

One of the reasons I love Jack's painting of John is because it conveys the message that God will never have great impact in our times until it has taken a hold of us and only then can our lives manifestly show that God is in us.

I don't think that is true in my life, however much I wish it to be true, nor do I often see it in the ecclesial manoueverings of some bishops and clerics who mouth the right words but whose perverse actions are more bothered about the length of their trailing cappa magna and whether their hands are in the right "orans" position when saying Mass and who command exclusivity and the high moral ground in understanding and conveying the message of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes the joy and the challenge of Advent is tempered by my frustration at the methods used by the church in leading us forward.

Sometimes I wonder how my aching and longing for God can be met in the institutional church, when there is so much corruption and clericalism still around.

Am I willing to be disturbed by this God who comes into my life or do I straddle the fence?

There was nothing politically correct about the Baptist's message. He got right to the point in his own dynamic style and said what needed to be said. 
He told the first people who came to him to share what they had.
He told the tax collectors to be just. He told the soldiers to make peace.
John’s message to all of us was a call to repentance. 
Repent involves “feelings” but it is an action word. John told his listeners to make a change of the mind, not merely to feel sorry for what they had done. 

Repentance speaks of a change of direction, a  metanoia, a complete reversal.

The message of John is a clear warning . We are on the road to perdition !

Christ comes to save us from the powers of duplicity, despair, darkness and death, and to put us back on the path of peace and reconciliation so that we find our way back to God, but John knows what that entails : a complete transformation in the wilderness of our hearts.

Advent is a huge and grand mystery that transforms and not simply informs.

Advent remains with its paradoxical combination of waiting and suffering and joy, judgment and deliverance, apocalyptic woe and hope. 

Unfortunately for our culture of instant gratification, it is hard to grasp the idea that hope requires incompleteness. 

To hope, in the true Advent fashion, is to live with the certainty of unfulfilled desire. 

 David Guzik describes John well here :

 John wasn’t motivated by the spirit of today’s age, but by the Spirit of God.

That's what John tells me : 

Hope in God is an action. 
Hope is belief in God who constantly does new things.
Hope is in a God who holds me fast in the face of chaos and confusion.

Advent teaches me that if I can be quiet in my heart long enough, I will discover the God of action who still carves out highways and transforms the arid dry wilderness of my life into an oasis.  

Advent asks me to open up wide to prepare to see the wonder and grandeur of God in all aspects of life. Daily life and the ordinary experiences are lifted up by the vibrancy of that Advent light.
Advent invites me to revisit those words  " I Am The Light of the World ", to realise my dependence on God, my desire for God and to discover through the night of waiting that God does indeed come in multifaceted ways.

The message of Advent is one that was heard when much in the world seemed to be  falling to pieces. No change there then !

The message of Advent can never be a namby pamby, sugar coated rote recitation that "God is in heaven and all is well with the world."

Rather the message of Advent is that when every fixed star on the moral compass seems to be wavering, when all hell is breaking loose on earth, this is the action and the consolation we have.

"Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."

The world still waits for freedom from hunger, war, oppression, violence, persecution and suffering. We all wait for redemption, for a time when we can say it is the best of times and there are no worst of times !

Advent is a challenge to look at the ways that I wait, the ways that I long for God, and the ways that I hope but more importantly it asks me to look at how I am helping to prepare a way for God to enter my heart.

John the Baptist's life can be summed up in the image of a finger pointing to the one who was coming: Jesus Christ. 

I pray that my life will in some small way become a pointing finger of living witness that shows where Jesus can be found and that he is always near. 

Jesus is the fulfillment of our longing, our hoping and waiting. 

Jesus alone can transform the deserts of our lives into living gardens of beauty and nourishment for the world.

When John was in prison he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask: "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" 

Was John afraid and was he beginning to doubt who Jesus was or did he know exactly who Jesus was and simply sent his disciples to Jesus because he knew that Jesus would affirm the message that they needed to hear- not for himself - but for them.
Jesus said to them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, leapers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me."
Thomas Merton said:
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. ...
The fear which is the first step to wisdom is the fear of being untrue to God and to ourselves.
It is the fear that we have lied to ourselves, that we have thrown down our lives at the feet of a false god."

Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude. (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux)

Below, there is a beautiful and potent Advent prayer from Jesuit Father Alfred Delp's last Advent reflection written in a Nazi prison - Source of prayer and a fine post on Fr Delp can be read at Beth Cioffoletti's excellent blog, louie louie from here 


I hope that every hollow valley of despair in myself and this world shall be filled in with God's love. 

I ask for my own faults to be smothered with your kindness
I need my mountains of ego and elevations of fear to be brought low

I long for my rough edges to be smoothed in the broad hands of your infinite love.

Lord, may I learn to be ready for Your coming.
Train me, as You trained John the Baptist,
to search for you in silence

Help me to simplify my life and not be afraid to hand over the control of things to you

Help me to know when the right time is to break the silence in company when I need to witness to your truth.

Help me to recognise where the desert is in our times,
in my own heart as much as in others 
Help me to prepare the way to you 
May your Word grow strong in me and give me courage.

Let it be as sharp as a two edged sword when it needs to be,

but also full of Your love and compassion. 

So on this Second Week of Advent I continue on my journey to the manger...

The Road is Made By Walking

The road is made by walking
Abreast or single file
While idlers sit there gawking, child
Come walk with me awhile

No miles are made by talking
No map can stride a mile
The road is made by walking, child
Come walk with me awhile

Felix Dennis from Homeless in my heart

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