Fr. Biju Kannampuzha is the pastor of St John Vianney Parish in Barrie, Ont.
Twenty years after the end of World War II, the German postal system released a series of stamps honouring eight of the countless people who served in the resistance against the Nazi regime. Among those honoured with a commemorative stamp was Fr. Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest. Fr. Delp was editor of the Jesuit monthly, The Voice of the Times, until it was suppressed in 1941. He penned several pieces, including the essay called, "The Shaking Reality of Advent," which he wrote shortly before his execution.
In that essay, Fr. Delp insisted, "There is nothing we modern people need more than to be genuinely shaken up." Rather than live in an utterly false and counterfeit security, we need to allow our inmost spirit to be moved by God so that we may begin to live in that movement and disquiet of heart that results when we are faced with God.
Face-to-face with God, we begin to see things clearly – as they really are. We begin to see sin for what it is and to recognize ourselves as needing repentance and forgiveness.
On this second Sunday of Advent, the Scripture readings echo Fr. Delp's ideas as they are intended to shake us into a renewed awareness of God's coming into our lives. Isaiah's words were a prediction of John the Baptist when he said, "voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'" He was calling upon people to prepare for the coming of the Lord. And the Lord was Jesus who brought about true liberation from the bondage of sin for all mankind.
Taken from the second letter of Peter, today's second reading makes it clear that the salvation promised by Isaiah was not completely accomplished even by the first coming of Jesus. It is only when Jesus comes again at the end of time that Isaiah's words will be entirely fulfilled. So, Peter reminds us that even though the second coming seems to be delayed, Christ will indeed come as promised. Besides, God is patient with us, giving us more time to repent of our sins and renew our lives.
God did not intend to make a few cosmetic changes by sending Christ into the world. God intended nothing less than to change the whole dynamic of human character. That's why on every second Sunday of Advent we encounter the character, John the Baptist, with his call to repentance.
John preached the "Baptism of Repentance." With the word "repent," John was telling people that they don't have to remain like they are. Repentance is one of the most beautiful words in our language. Because it says that we can do something about the road we have taken. If our road is crooked, it can be made straight. If we are on the wrong track, we can turn around or get on the right track. We don't have to be held captive by our failures or our past. We can repent. We can get rid of the past. We can start over. We may not be able to change what we've already done and we may not be able to fully escape the consequences of our past choices. But we don't have to continue down the same destructive road. We can repent and start again.
In this season of Advent, the Church extends John the Baptist's call to repent and confess our sins in preparation for the One who is to come. Jesus was the first person to claim that God can forgive one's sins here on earth. The sacrament of confession is the means commanded by Christ for the forgiveness of sins. In the sacrament of reconciliation, we celebrate God's forgiveness. In the confessional we encounter the same Christ that the Samaritan woman or Mary Magdalene or the prodigal son or Zacchaeus met centuries ago in Palestine.
This reminds me of a story. A woman was dying of cancer. Her doctor said, "Ma'am, your cancer has spread, and I'm afraid you'll die soon. Is there any last wish you'd like me to fulfill?"
"Yes," cried the woman weakly. "Can you take me to another doctor?"
It's difficult to accept painful truths like, "I'm sick" or "I'm a sinner."
But, the "voice of one crying out in the desert" diagnoses our spiritual cancers and prescribes their cure: Repentance, prepare the way and make paths straight. As we enter into the second week of Advent let us commit ourselves to preparing the way of the Lord. Let us make friends with someone who we are at odds with. Let us pick up the phone and talk to somebody we haven't talked to in months or years. Be the first to hold out the hand of reconciliation even if it gets slapped or rejected.
A few years ago, one of the Protestant denominations had a wonderful, but hard-hitting publicity poster. It was aimed at people who had drifted away from the church. At the center of the poster was a picture of six men carrying a casket into a church. Printed over the picture were these words: "Will it take six strong men to bring you back to church? The church welcomes you back no matter what condition you are in, but we would prefer to see you breathing."
Let us turn this Advent into a real spiritual homecoming by making the necessary preparations for the arrival of the Saviour and his entrance into our lives.
This reflection is based on the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B: Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3: 8-14; and Mark 1: 1-8.