Chapter Talk – Third Sunday of Advent – December 15, 2019, cycle-A
‘Be patient’, ‘Make your hearts firm’, ‘Do not complain about one another, so that you may not be judged’…. ‘the prophets knew of hardship and patience’…These are exhortative words from the epistle for this Third Sunday of Advent…And added to them is the theme of ‘rejoice’ for the coming One is even closer now, our expectant hearts begin to feel the reality of God’s promise stirring in the silent depths within and without in the created world.
Today’s gospel, as well, refers to the ‘hardship and patience’ of the prophet John….We hear his prophetic voice again, referred to by Jesus, who poses the question: ‘What did you go out to the desert to see?’ We go to the desert, that empty space of solitude, not for some kind of light experience, we go for repentance: to ask a new turning in our lives…a turning away from what is NOT life to a turning that opens us more and expands the heart, that softens the heart so that it can be ready to receive the Coming One.
Fr. Ed of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass said this in his homily last week, which is apropos for this Sunday as well: “During Advent John the Baptist challenges us to focus our attention not on what we were or are / but who we could and want to be. If we cannot produce the evidence of our desire to change / to open our lives by repentance to the healing love and compassion of God: How can we be ready to embrace the Son of God on Christmas morning?” Sisters: Who, in God’s eyes, do I want to be and could be? Do I have a desire to change? How deep is that desire? Advent is a time of opportunity…a time to receive more of God so that we can be his love and compassion in all that we are and all that we are becoming.
John, the prophetic messenger, goes ahead of us, exhorting us with one word, ‘repent’. Repentance is an invitation to make a change, even a small change in our lives…for this is how we prepare the way for the birth of Christ in our lives. This change, no matter how small, is what creates space for new life to emerge. This change happens first through our own desire and through acknowledgment of specifically what needs change…With this acknowledgement firmly set in our awareness, grace will be there to help us in our desire…but we must take the first step.
Wendy Wright notes in her book, The Vigil, that “The mystery is this: that God is born. Not only does this mystery speak to us of the inexpressible compassion of our God, who has entered intimately into history in order to participate fully in all that is most human, but it recalls for us that creation itself, especially the human person, has become the sacred locus of the encounter of the finite and the infinite” (p.49). This promised news calls us to ‘rejoice’. With God’s incarnate gift in Christ, the human person, all of us, have become the ‘locus of the encounter of the finite and the infinite’. Repentance, this simple turning from one way to another: it could be a judgmental attitude, a rigid, one-sided perspective, a murmuring heart, a criticism of a sister, to turn away from any of these, even if it means doing it a hundred times a day…so that we will ready for this new meeting of God’s life birthing forth in our wounded humanity.
Thomas Merton’s poem, that we heard at Vigil, encapsulates the meaning of Advent repentance, this turning that makes the heart free and ready, that creates the interior space for God to breathe forth the life of his Son:
O now, thou strong in merits, come,
Break up our hearts’ resisting stone:
Smooth out our rugged roads, make plain
Our twisting and uncertain courses.
So that the coming of the compassionate
Creator, may find our souls’ way free.