2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle B (Dec. 7, 2014)

Life can be pretty scary sometimes. In the course of an ordinary humanlife, a person sees some frightening things. But I’d like to suggest that amongthe most terrible sights, is the face of an angry parent, seen through the eyesof a small child. Now we could speak of either parent, but to help us focus ourimaginations, let’s pick one: Let’s consider the case of a small child, whosemother is angry.

Look at it from the child’s perspective. First of all you have a big, strong,resourceful person, angry with a small, helpless one. But there’s far more to itthan that. After all, this particular big person is Mom. She has been for thechild the source of everything that is good: life, love, sustenance, protection,identity, meaning, knowledge, everything.

And now this source of every good gift is angry with the child. How doesthe child feel? There must be anxiety about punishment, and even at somelevel, fear of abandonment. Does she love me anymore? Is she still my Mom?Does she still want me as her child? Is this the end of everything?

And what if the Mother’s anger is justified? What if the child has donesomething very wrong, and knows it? Then there must be some sense of selfrecrimination.How could I have been such an idiot? How could I have donesuch a stupid, pointless thing? And now look what’s happened. If only I couldtake it back, I’d never do it again!

And imagine how the child searches the mother’s face for the first signthat she may be relenting — how the child aches to see the beginning of a smile,or that affectionate, if ironic, glance that suggests that her anger is waning andthat her love endures.

And when the longed for moment comes, when subtle changes in herexpression signal to the child that enduring love will quell her anger, what doesthe child feel? A flood of relief. An outpouring of joy. A deep resolution to beworthy of that wonderful love from that moment forward.

However well or badly this description depicts an encounter betweenparent and child, I think it does shed light on the encounter between God andIsrael in today’s readings.

God has been for Israel the source of every good gift: life, love,sustenance, protection, identity, meaning, knowledge — everything a lovingparent would seek to provide a cherished child. But now, it seems, all that hasbeen withdrawn. The people have sinned. God is angry, and Israel is bereavedand despoiled.

Imagine how, in the midst of their suffering, the people reproachedthemselves for their unfaithfulness to God. How, they must have wondered,could they have been such fools? How could they have so thoughtlesslyrepudiated their special relationship with the Lord?

And imagine how they strained their senses for any sign that God wouldrelent. How they yearned for the slightest indication that the specialtenderness that God had always felt toward them had been rekindled — thatdivine justice would be tempered by divine mercy. The antiphon of ourresponsorial psalm must have been their heart-felt cry: “Lord, let us see yourkindness, and grant us your salvation.”

And, at last, God placed on the lips of the prophet Isaiah, the words thatIsrael longed to hear — the words of our first reading:

Comfort; give comfort to my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is
at an end, her guilt is expiated…
A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!
Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he carries the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.

I wonder if we can conceive of the joy and relief Israel must have felt atthese words — if we can imagine the renewed hope and enthusiasm with whichthey prepared to welcome their Lord — and the depth of their resolution thatthis time they would be faithful. They would never turn away from their lovingGod again.

Christians have always believed that the loving shepherd, whose coming isproclaimed by Isaiah, is the same Jesus who is heralded by John the Baptist inour Gospel. It is Jesus who puts right our broken relationship with God — Jesuswhose life, death & resurrection allow us to reclaim our status as belovedchildren of a loving God who wants to be mother and father to each one of us.Jesus is the sign that whatever we’ve done, God’s love for us endures.

And Advent is the season in which we prepare for his coming. So Adventmust be a season of renewed hope, just as it was an occasion of hope whenIsrael heard Isaiah’s words of prophetic comfort, just as it is an occasion of hopewhen a child sees the look on his mother’s face that makes the child realize,”Nah, she’s not really mad.”

Advent must be a season of deliverance from anxiety — a season ofenthusiasm and joy — a season marked by a steadfast resolve that this time, wewill be ready to welcome him, and will never again turn away from the one whois the greatest gift that even God could give.

Fr. Charles Gordon, C.S.C.

Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”

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