This Advent, we’re excited to share excerpts from the new book The Light of the World: Daily Meditations for Advent and Christmas, by Phyllis Zagano. This week, we have the reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent.
Second Sunday of Advent
He is Coming!
Year A: Isaiah 11:1–10; Romans 15:4–9; Matthew 3:1–12
Year B: Isaiah 40:1–5, 9–11; 2 Peter 3:8–14; Mark 1:1–8
Year C: Baruch 5:1–9; Philippians 1:4–6, 8–11; Luke 3:1–6
A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
The cry of John the Baptist rings out in the desert. He is coming. The One is coming. The One will be here soon!
The Judean desert is a forbidding place. I always thought the desert was something like Jones Beach on Long Island, with nice soft white sand. It is not. The desert where John preached has the look and feel of crumbling concrete as you walk across it. Its hard and unforgiving dirty tan surface kicks back clouds of dust and clods of dry earth as you walk. Winds suddenly whistle from somewhere. Behind? Ahead? And it is dry, as dry as anything you can imagine.
John lived in the desert. Some say he was part of the community around Qumran. They say the famous Dead Sea Scrolls turned up in the Qumran Caves in the Judean Desert of the West Bank, Palestine, because a shepherd boy threw a stone into a cave and heard an unusual sound. They say he threw that stone, and rather than a clunk or plunk, he heard the sound of clay pots breaking. That is the story, at least. In any event, archaeologists found scrolls with texts of the Hebrew Bible. Some scholars argue other scrolls found there evidence the earliest Christian community.
John was present, there or elsewhere. There may have been more water around in John’s time, but you can tell from the topography that locusts and honey would be a good meal, if you could find them.
So, we have in our imagination wild-eyed John, proclaiming that he is not the one, but that the One who is to come is really coming.
Yawn. One more nut case. Who can believe this John? What is he telling us to do? How are we to prepare the “way of the Lord”? How are we to make straight a highway in a wasteland?
Well, maybe the wasteland is in our own hearts. We are “dry” and “empty” and “abandoned.” Sometimes—not always—but sometimes, we create our own wastelands; we create our own interior deserts in any one of a hundred, no, a thousand, ways. We fill our senses unnecessarily with food, drink, entertainment, talk. All these and more fill wondrous needs. All these and more can dry up the gentle springs of grace that irrigate the deserts of our hearts.
I think that is what John is telling us here, now, two thousand years after he first announced the coming of the Christ. When I hear John shout “make straight the way of the Lord,” I do of course recall that desert near Qumran. I remember the dry ground and the dry air. But I recall as well the fact that I can do something here and now to bring refreshment to the dryness, to feed my heart and let myself shout out joyfully with John: He is coming! The Christ is coming!
Of course, there always is the chance that I may not. Like others grown lukewarm, I may ignore John’s shouts or eventually dismiss them from belief. That is the daily challenge for any Christian.
Maybe we should look at it this way, with a nod to Pascal’s wager. If John is wrong and there is no Christ, but I proclaim Christ’s coming anyway, I have lost nothing. But if John is right and I do not believe, I have lost everything.
A Grace for Today
Lord, grant me the grace to believe you will come to my desert.
Journey through Advent with internationally acclaimed author Phyllis Zagano as she explores the rich themes of this holy season. As explored by Zagano, Advent is a time of darkness and light, increase and decrease. The Light of the World gently unfolds the rhythms of these sacred weeks, inviting readers into a deep and prayerful journey to Christmas.