Readings: Second Sunday of Advent | USCCB
Each of us are invited to embody aspects of the Scriptures, especially, of course, the life of Jesus. I repeat this adage frequently to myself: Everything about the Life of Jesus is meant to inform my own life –Yours, too! In his time, John the Baptist embodied Isaiah’s Prophecy: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill be made low;”
What do we make of Isaiah’s spiritual poetry? What does it mean for mountains to be flattened and valleys smoothed? Nothing less than all barriers to God are removed. Images of tree lined paths upon the plains also remind us of the importance of humility, of being “grounded” in God.
I found inspiration from a film I watched this week. We live in a highly visually oriented culture, and most of us watch a considerable amount of films and television. Therefore, we must keep what we watch in conversation with our faith. The film I watched this time made it easy to do just that. Entitled ‘THE HOLLY AND THE IVY,” this 1952 British film tells the story three adult children spending Christmas Day with their widowed father who happens to be the village parson. These young adults have not lived model lives despite their father’s spiritual fervor and the strong morality and high ideals he impressed upon them. It was not that dad was unsympathetic, nor was he an unforgiving man, yet the offspring never felt they could open their hearts and minds to their “Father” father. From childhood to the very Christmas depicted in the film, they didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t express their difficulties, their hardships, mistakes, especially not their sins to Father Gregory for fear of causing him disappointment, or exasperating their guilt. In this sense, “the mountains were too high,” the valleys too low.” When, finally, the film reaches its climax and the children’s secrets are revealed, there is a powerful catharsis. The mountains made low, the valleys filled, all from the freedom that comes from being known and understood. That, dear friends, is “the freedom of the children of God.”
The movie proved a great reminder to me that Goodness –however much we experience and strive for goodness –is not the same as “being REAL”—honest in our struggles with faith, hope and love. Our religious practice must be grounded in “’down to earth” realities. We are not called to flee in fear from confession, from Sacraments or from one another, but humbly acknowledge that while we strive to imitate Christ, holding ourselves accountable to righteousness and moral integrity, we must accept each other for who we are and who we are not, refraining from judgment and condemnation in order to say to one another, “I understand,” “I, too, am tempted,” “I too have failed.”
Do you see why we needed John the Baptist to prepare us for Christ? Do you see how repentance and forgiveness are the path to Jesus? To encounter Christ, we need to be flattened out! We need to be open, trusting. We need to be REAL in order to be GOOD; not only to prepare ourselves for Christmas, but to live the lives our Savior intends us to live.
Optional Second Ending: May we resolve this very day –now with two Advent Candles lighting [JD1] our way– to support one another in prayer, uphold one another in the sacramental life, affirm our need for ongoing forgiveness, to live Christian hope and fortitude. Indeed, allowing honesty and reconciliation to make straight our path to Jesus, we may indeed address the wrongs we commit and our world’s dysfunction. Both. Truly. And remember the path we are walking on is the stairway to heaven.