The readings for the second Sunday of Advent, which can be found here, have an interesting dynamic. The readings from the Hebrew Bible are full of hope and speak of a peaceful world. This peace will so deeply permeate our world that there will no longer be any violence, neither between human beings nor even between animals. As Christians, we believe that Christ has already come, but we await a Second Coming in which Jesus will come to fully restore the peace that was promised in the Messianic tradition. Advent is a season not only of preparation to remember the birth of Jesus, but also to prepare for the Second Coming ourselves. These readings are meant to encourage us. In a time when threats like war, climate change, famine, soil depletion, and a Doomsday clock that still sits at three minutes to midnight, we are in need of hope. God’s promise to us is not only for past generations but also for ours: God promises a world of both justice and peace.
The Gospel reading which describes John offers a sudden shift in tone. John the Baptist rebukes the Pharisees, saying, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” and cautions against presumption of salvation. John calls everyone to repentance, for everyone is in need of it, regardless of background. He is especially harsh with those who feel that they are in no need of repentance, who see themselves as the holy and righteous ones and everyone else as the “bad guy.” Of course, such self-righteousness is one of the reasons for war rather than peace, and self-seeking our own interests instead of the common good produces many of our global problems as well as personal ones. We, not God, are responsible for the choices that have led to our global crises—no matter who we voted for, no matter what we have done or not done, each one of us probably plays some role in contributing to discord and separation rather than peace and reconciliation.
Together, these readings tell us that we must hope in the Lord, but not hope passively in the sense of simply waiting for God to act and to take care of matters for us. John asks, what are the fruits of your action? Where are the fruits of your faith? Thus even Advent need not be a passive waiting of God’s action but an examination also of where have I acted or failed to act? To the extent that I can contribute to the world’s peace so that peace may be like a river that runs through all of creation, to every corner of the world, what I am doing or not doing? The act might be as simple as expressing kindness to another with whom we are in personal relationship, perhaps in a damaged relationship in need of a little healing, or to a grieving person in need of a little comfort. We are also asked to contribute to the betterment of these larger global issues where we can. Charitable giving to organizations that combat poverty, or climate change can help. Although we might not think about Advent in political terms, calling our political representatives and asking them to stand for peace and the global common good is also an act of peacemaking, even in the immediate effects of our actions might feel more remote.
Ignatius of Loyola is said to have given us a version of the now well known paradox: “Pray as if everything depended on God, then act as if everything depended on you.” (His words were slightly different but the idea is the same.) God gives us freedom to act as we will, and yet God is continually encouraging us and working for peace in our midst. Free will and grace both abound. In Advent, we can use this time to prepare our selves and to prepare our world for peace and the joy of justice and love.