In our upcoming Second Week of Advent, the Church tells us clearly that the time is near, that we must be ready. The scripture passages that we hear throughout this week sound a clarion call to watch and prepare because some great things are about to happen.
In Sunday’s readings, we anticipate the Messiah who has been endowed with the great Spirit of God (Is. 11). We come to know that He is the long-awaited Anointed of God who will restore right relationship in a world that has forgotten and lost it. In Sunday’s Gospel we hear John the Baptist exclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2)! He is telling us what we must do in preparation for this Messiah’s coming and the restoration that will happen. Through the Baptist, we come to know that this season of Advent requires conversion. We must turn away from our sinful ways and toward the One on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests (Is. 11:2). The repentance and conversion of sinners is the most amazing miracle we can encounter during Advent, and that theme runs throughout the week.
Another important theme of this second week is captured by Isaiah, on Tuesday. The prophet exclaims, “In the desert, prepare the way of the Lord! … Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed…” (Is. 40)! We learn that God wants to reveal His face to us, and He wants to make the spiritual deserts of our lives lush and fecund again. The purpose of Advent, then, is to make our hearts more ready than they are right now. If we desire that water comes into our spiritual desert, if we want to experience more of His glory, all we have to do is recognize His power to fill our need. In these days of Advent, we need to pray about the various deserts of our lives, and we need to ask God, in His providence, to share the glorious water of His grace.
We also must come to understand that we cannot create such a change by ourselves. This week of Advent is about learning that God is the sole source of benefits and blessings. God is the one who has power. God is the one who can provide. He will do so consistently, but we must know that He will not be rushed by our demands. We must let God provide blessings to us in the way, and in the time span, that He desires, that He knows is best for us.
Still, we find ourselves setting expectations for God, and we go in search of ways to fulfill our own plans and desires. Living by our own plans and our own ways, our hearts are turned far from the Lord, and we begin to notice that the darkness and the desert have become more pronounced in our lives. How many of us have found ourselves distant from God because we have sought fulfillment in a career, in being part of a certain social group, or in mere physical pleasures? That’s where conversion comes in. Advent is a time to turn back to the Lord.
The great lesson that God wishes for us to learn is contained in Isaiah 41 (normally read on Thursday of this week, but for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe this year). The prophet announces, “The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain.” Isaiah follows quickly with the Lord’s answer: “I will turn the desert into marshland…the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.” God alone can and will fill the arid deserts of our lives. Only He can make our lives fruitful by the water of His grace.
The consolation that God wants to provide, the spiritual fruit in our lives, is often different than we might expect. He doesn’t wish to provide us with more monetary resources, more social influence, or more physical pleasure. Instead, He wishes to bring about repentance and conversion, first and foremost, which will become the greatest realities in our lives. That is why John the Baptist says, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I” (Mt. 3:11; emphasis added). Repentance and conversion will make us ready for a deeper encounter with God, something better than we could ever dream up on our own.
Finally, any reflection on the Second Week of Advent would be incomplete without a comment about the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, because it is the greatest Advent celebration. In fact, the point of this reflection is proved by the Church’s teaching about the Immaculate Conception. Mary could not have spared herself from the stain of original sin, and neither could her parents or even the most influential prophet in Israel’s history. God, Himself, had to prevent her from inheriting our fallen human condition so that He could complete His plan to redeem us. Mary, just like each and every one of us, is totally dependent on the grace and help of the Lord. The difference is that she knew her condition and responded perfectly. During Advent, we must seek to imitate Mary’s “Yes!” In making space for God’s will in our lives, like Mary did, we will be preparing for the arrival of Jesus, for the amazing gifts that God wants to grant to us.
When we have done this, the Lord will renew our strength so that we do not grow weary, as Isaiah 40 tells us (Tuesday). Therefore, we should be on highest alert as this Second Week of Advent proceeds. In this way we will be able to see the incredible things that God will do; we will be prepared to receive the abundant graces that He has for us; and we will become like the trees bearing good fruit about which John the Baptist preached. All these amazing things will give glory and honor to the Lord, and they will lift us up to heights we’ve never been. Don’t let these incredible things pass you by this Advent. Remain alert, keep watching, and repent!