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Second Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The gospel reading from the First Sunday of Advent culminated with our Lord’s admonition to ‘Stay awake!’ This week we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah in the mouth of St John the Baptist describing his mission to prepare a way for the Lord, and make his paths straight. These are some of the words most often heard in the sacred liturgy throughout this holy season, and reflect its penitential character: a call to prepare ourselves for the threefold coming of Christ: His coming at Christmas, His coming in the heart of each believer, and in His return in judgement at the end of time.

But this season does not posses the same character as Lent. Rather ours is a joyful longing, a waiting for the birth of our Saviour who has already overcome the world. The sentiment is summed up by St John in his First Epistle ‘Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2). ‘We can rejoice in the Lord even now before the reality comes to us, and before we attain to the reality, for no little joy is given by the anticipation in hope of that in which we shall participate in reality later’ (St Augustine, Sermon 21).

The length of Advent is a meditation on the promise of God to dwell with his people, which finds its greatest expression in the prophecy of Isaiah. There we read that, ‘a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel,’ and in today’s first reading that ‘there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.’ Part of our reflection during this season should be asking ourself why we feel distant from the God who dwells with us. Our actions push God away, the very God who is Emmanuel, who is so near to us. But if we love, he will come near; if we love, he will dwell with us. If our hearts remain cold we cannot hope to share fully in the joy of Christmas.

One of my favourite poems is The Burning Babe by the Jesuit martyr St Robert Southwell which he wrote, along with a large number of other poems, while he was working as a clandestine priest in England at the height of the Elizabethan persecution.

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”
With this he vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.

Nobody comes to warm themselves by the fire in the vision: men have despised the gift of divine love. Our Advent should be one that encourages us to look at our lives, to see where in our lives we try to push God out, where in our lives we despise divine love, and to allow us once again to prepare the way for the Lord. Then we can participate more perfectly in the Redemption the Christ Child brought that first Christmas.

Br Albert Elias Robertson O.P.

Br Albert Elias was born in Surrey and went to university at the London School of Economics, where he read Social Anthropology before going to Oxford, where he read for an MPhil in Material Anthropology. After studies, he had a propaedeutic year in three Anglican parishes in north London. He became a Catholic in 2013 and worked for a short time in London living at St Patrick’s Soho before entering the noviciate in 2015. Br Albert helps to run the Thomistic Institute and so has an interest in promoting the theology of St Thomas as well as Patristics. In his spare time he likes to read novels [lots]. | albert.robertson@english.op.org


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