A Reflection on the readings of December 10, 2023 — The Second Sunday of Advent
To better understand the message that the Church is giving us on this Second Sunday of Advent, we could think of a father who is praying, when he is suddenly interrupted by his son. His son had been playing hide-and-seek with a friend. And in this case his friend hid so well that the son couldn’t find him and got tired of looking for him. So he ran to his dad to tell him that he was tired and that he wasn’t going to look for his friend anymore.
The same thing happens with people and with God. We forget that Jesus is still among us, but he “hides” from our physical eyes. We are the ones who get tired of looking for him. The Church’s liturgical calendar presents us with this season of Advent to help us seek Christ in our life and to prepare us to encounter him as we approach the feast of his Nativity.
Today’s Gospel presents us with John the Baptist as a central figure in preparation for Christmas. If we were to do a survey about the biblical characters related to the Christmas season, it is very unlikely that anyone will think of John the Baptist in this context. Generally, we associate Christmas with Mary and Joseph, with Christ, with the Shepherds, with the Wise Men from the East, perhaps even with the little drummer boy — but not John. However, the liturgy today presents him to us as the primary figure who delivers the key message on this Second Sunday of Advent.
John the Baptist appears in today’s Gospel as part of a simple, plain, unembellished and empty scenario. We don’t find him in big temples, surrounded by royalty or high priests. Rather, he begins his mission today from a place of simplicity. We find John preaching to the people in a simple setting — the desert. He wears simple clothing, “camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist.” He subsists on a simple diet, “fed on locusts and wild honey.” It is in this simple reality that the path to encounter God begins to be laid.
However, this scenario has another consideration. The desert is not just a setting of “simplicity.” It is also a place that reflects challenges, loneliness, lack of luxuries, and a lack of fertile land. The desert reminds us of times and moments of difficulty and crisis. Nevertheless, throughout the Old and New Testaments, the desert has also been witness to God’s most beautiful miracles. The simplicity of the desert is a challenge and an opportunity. This is the proposal that our liturgy presents to us in the voice of John the Baptist. It is in the simplicity of the desert that John invites us to prepare to receive God, a God who comes because he cares for us, a God who comes “Like a shepherd [who] feeds his flock; [who] in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom,” as the first reading tells us.
John Paul II once said, “Advent means ‘coming’ and it also means ‘encounter’” (homily, December 6, 1981). For his part, Pope Francis tells us that for an “encounter” to occur effectively, one must leave his self-centered world, his reality, to enter into that of his neighbor (cf. Fratelli Tutti 111). If we want to make the most out of this Advent season, it is up to us to reflect on these deserts that we experience in life. Deserts are opportunities to go outside of ourselves and to try to enter the reality of God. The desert reminds us that God is not found exclusively in lavish spectacles or supernatural events. God is found in the simplicity of life.
At the same time, let us remember that in this Advent season we do not go alone. In this search for God, John the Baptist tells us that this is a journey based on personal work in collaboration with God. John the Baptist calls us to this constant conversion and to work on ourselves, and he calls us to begin searching for God. Yes, he calls us to do our part. But John also reminds us that at the arrival of God — the one who we are not “worthy to stop and loosen the thongs of his sandals” — God will send us the Holy Spirit, who will work as our guide in life. This same Spirit, when we cooperate with our prayer and discernment, will show us the path he wants us to follow in life.
It is true that Christmas songs are very beautiful, along with the lights, the Christmas trees, and the other symbols of Christmas that are presented to us this season. But at the same time, without rushing to the feast of the Nativity, let us dedicate ourselves time and space to work on ourselves, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” starting out on this path from a simple reality without distractions. Let us go forth from our deserts, guided by the Holy Spirit, seeking God in the simple — in simple people, in simple moments, and in simple realities.
Image: By Titian – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15501386
Father Bernardo Lara is a priest of the Diocese of San Diego and pastor of three Southern California parishes: Sacred Heart and St. Margaret Mary in Brawley and St. Joseph in Westmorland.