Second Sunday of Advent

THE PATIENCE TO HEED

By John Dalla Costa

Good intentions were not enough. A group of us, including Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars, had gathered in Amman, Jordan for dialogue. Our aim was to provide theological support for economic cooperation between the splintered communities in the Middle East. Business people from across the region joined us, looking towards religious leaders for seeds to grow the stability that politics had so far been unable to achieve.

Rich as it was, the dialogue fell far short of the potential. Perhaps it was inevitable that we too would be foiled by the complexities and rigidities of the situation on the ground. Later, we realized that while we had gathered with goodwill, we all carried too many fixed ideas, and extended too little flexibility. One Muslim theologian bemoaned this human enthusiasm for changing others without changing ourselves as “the lost art of heeding.”

Advent is nothing if not a time for heeding. We are looking ahead, joyfully expectant for Christmas, but need this time to prepare to be ready to receive this gift from God.

Today’s readings are an instruction manual for heeding. Isaiah, Peter, and Mark each enjoin us to take the long view – to see our lives woven together as participants in God’s healing story. They teach repentance to help us undo those rigidities that keep God on the periphery of our lives, and they teach patience to help us grow through prayer into the Christ-bearers we are called to become.

Heeding on this level is a serious task, which in many ways involves the opposite of what Christmas season has become. The authors counsel us to take a detour from the detours of our busy world – to withdraw to that spiritual desert where we are reformed in solitude and reshaped in silence. We are told to wait, and to trust God, not as passive recipients for the drama that will unfold, but to be made anew by pondering the amazing promise, that “kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.”