The Second Sunday of Advent

By: John Dalla Costa and Lucinda M. Vardey

The prophecy from Isaiah is fulfilled: the messenger has come.
The promise from God is kept: now begins the gospel.
A baptism of water beckons all of Jerusalem to repentance.
A baptism of the Holy Spirit now embraces all humanity, and all creation.
A baptism of water marks the end of the old Covenant.
A baptism of the Holy Spirit heralds the beginning of a new Church.
A baptism of water ends our long isolation from God – with purification.
A baptism of the Holy Spirit enfolds us in the Trinity – with grace.

Advent is always a time when awaiting and attentiveness become spiritual gifts. As we heard in Francky’s reflection last Sunday, this particular Advent – with the disruption from Covid-19 – holds the potential for more fully experiencing God’s promise. Exactly because seasonal routines have broken-down, we may – by grace – break-through to the actual transformation Advent portends.

Some of you may know the story of Father Alfred Delp – a Jesuit who was imprisoned and executed by the Nazis. His crime was planning with a small group the moral and social reconstruction of Germany after World War II. While in prison, Fr. Delp wrote mediations on Advent that have uncanny resonance today, and for our reconstruction after the pandemic.
Fr. Delp calls Christians “an Advent people,” because our mission is to hold fast God’s redemptive promise in history. “Advent is a time for rousing,” he wrote, “to be shaken to the very depths, so that we can wake up to the truth of ourselves.”
How are we being roused? What truths are being awakened?

With lockdown, this is obviously an Advent of isolation, but perhaps being alone, breaking from busyness and routine, is to help find the truth of ourselves – to find the truth of talents not yet used, dreams not yet dared, responsibilities not yet shouldered.

Because of contagion, this is a wary Advent of uncertainty, but perhaps this precariousness is to learn to trust God that much more. Fr. Delp explained: “Our progress towards fulfillment involves being vulnerable…[and] God’s promises are given precisely to meet these contingencies.”

Ultimately, this is an Advent of loss, for the victims of the pandemic, and from unemployment, missed celebrations, and broken school terms. Fr. Delp recognized that shared suffering, if we let it, helps us to “reverse course” – to shed falsehoods from what was so to grow spiritually, and together, for what’s coming – for what’s next.
Today’s gospel starts at the Jordan. Bathed in these waters we wait. In Fr. Delp’s words: “to listen, to keep watch, to let our hearts quicken under the impulse of the indwelling Holy Spirit.”

Mary is waiting. Impregnated by the Holy Spirit she is about to birth the great gift of the Holy Spirit into our world. She waits. Like all pregnant women she has given over her body for the growth of life of another. She agreed to accept this new life, but the growth of it happens without her doing. All she can do is receive. And all she does is trust the process. She can do nothing else but wait and pray. At Christmas she enters labour and through the water of her womb the child is given to us.

The one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit comes among us and we are not worthy to untie his sandals. Yet he is the one who unties ours and washes our feet and shows us how to receive his touch, his care, his love. He is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit with the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, fortitude, counsel and devotion to God. He is the one who brings fire to the earth, how he wishes it was already burning!
Advent is a time to receive, to let God love us, to let God dwell more fully in us, to let God labour in us in order to birth someone new in us, to fill us with the grace of the Holy Spirit’s gifts so we can carry Jesus into a world in need of healing, hope and the fire of God’s love.