Second Sunday of Advent
At a conference recently, I brought an acorn along with me and kept it in my pocket. When the appropriate point in the talk arrived, I took out the acorn and reminded the audience of one of my favorite sayings: “There are two ways to get to the top of an oak tree: climb to the top, or sit on an acorn and wait.” To me it always suggests that we have work to do. Sitting around and waiting doesn’t make much sense.
Advent, of course, is a time of waiting: “…we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.” In the past, I have written about this theme, remembering that the word patience comes from patior, meaning to suffer. We endure the period of waiting with faith and with a firm anchor in hope, because love demands it, and love is worth the wait!
Still, Advent is more than just sitting on an acorn. There is some climbing to do! For us, though, it is not an oak tree but a mountain we must climb:
“Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.”
We are climbing that holy mountain so that like John the Baptist we might “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” For as surely as Christ came as a helpless little baby in Bethlehem, so too will He surely come as the All Powerful King and Judge. The Church is the “herald of glad tidings” and the “herald of good news!” The very nature of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News, to all creation until Christ comes again. This is why Pope Francis has so clearly reminded us that as Christians we are “missionary disciples.”
Most of us, I imagine, focus more on the “disciples” part of that equation. We are familiar with the demands of discipleship, even if we fail to live up to them. We recognize the need to grow in virtue and to deepen our prayer lives and our commitment to the works of mercy. “God must be served first,” St. Joan of Arc said, and we agree, though we struggle with sin and temptation.
Still, we have that “missionary” part of the equation that Pope Francis wants us to take seriously. We are the Church, the “herald of glad tidings” and the “herald of good news!” Last week, we focused on God’s pedagogy of incrementally preparing us for Christ and the Kingdom through gradual Divine Revelation. This week, perhaps we can think about ways to adopt that same teaching technique in our attempts to evangelize. I am sure you have ideas and experiences of your own for doing this. For what they are worth, here are three of mine:
First, we should remember that the focus is “joy” and “good news.” The Peter Maurin character, played by Martin Sheen, in the 1996 movie about Dorothy Day Entertaining Angels says it well: “We must be announcers, not denouncers!” Second, the pope calls us to “accompany” people on the journey, smelling like the sheep, embodying God’s unconditional love in all the messiness of life and in all the brokenness of the human situation. Accompaniment, though, involves sacrifice of time and emotional energy. It means witnessing to love even when we may not be loved in return. After all, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Third, as we accompany people, let’s not expect that people get it all at once, or that their salvation depends on our depositing the entire treasury of Catholicism into their lives in one fell swoop! In the words of the religious education scholar Tom Groome, “It is better to bring people along than to turn them away.”
It’s already the Second Week of Advent… and this year there are only three (the Fourth Sunday is Christmas Eve). It’s time to start climbing the oak tree, “the rooftops” (Matt. 10:27), and “the high mountain” to prepare the world for coming of the King! There’s work to do. We can’t just sit and wait passively. We are not just disciples; we are missionary disciples! It’s time to get off our acorns.