The prophet Isaiah begins our readings this week pleading: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God” (Isa 40:1). For many people alive today, if we have ever had a season in which we could use some honest comfort it is this year. COVID-19, racial strife, election year politics, and a powerful economic downturn have left us all weary and looking for rest and new hope. It is worth noting that the very name of the season of Advent—meaning “coming”—sets a tone of expectation and hope. This Sunday the scriptures underline this point and offer the sort of hope that puts our troubles into perspective.
First we reflect on Isaiah’s promise of relief: “Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care” (Isa 40:10-11). After many years of exile away from their own land the people of Israel were beginning to return home in the time of this prophecy and the fidelity of the Lord was becoming clear. Although they had strayed far from the Lord he maintained them through their exile and now led them to freedom once again.
God was patient with Israel throughout the whole of the Old Testament and now he is patient with us as we negotiate the path of life with all the difficulties that attend it. For our part, although we have come through a tough year we can be sure that the Lord is with us the whole way, lightening our burdens even if we do not notice it. This may be a good time to recall the words of Saint Paul: “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body” (2 Cor 4:8-10).
Paul’s exhortation reminds us that the suffering we endure in this life is a share in the suffering of Jesus, and that this experience opens us to the possibility of sharing as well in his resurrection and new life. In the Second Letter of Peter today we hear a related word of counsel; the writer advises that the Lord will indeed be faithful to his holy ones who suffer, all the while waiting for their full conversion and growth in virtue: “The Lord does not delay his promise…but he is patient with you… that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Finally, the Gospel teaches us that Christ is the one who brings the rest and hope we all need, in good times and difficult ones. From the opening words of the Gospel of Mark we hear: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths…One mightier than I is coming after me…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:2-3, 8).
Strengthened by the grace of the Holy Spirit we have all we need to persevere on the way of Christian discipleship, even in this year of adversity in our communities, in our nation, and around the world.
This Advent season let us open our hearts to the Holy Spirit and the grace of conversion it brings, “preparing the way” for the Lord coming at Christmas and finding peace for ourselves amidst the present stress of our times. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.