Advent — Making Paths Straight

Making Rough Ways Smooth (2008)

Advent is a time of straightening our paths so that we may walk in the light. As with many of you, journeys and paths, and signs and wonders have been recurring themes on my spiritual journey. I often pray for guidance along my path, but I don’t always pay attention to the signs that God places along the way. God gives us signs to know where to journey, and sent his Word to show us how to travel.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent

The readings of the Second Sunday of Advent are taken from Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8.

Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care. (Isaiah 40:11)

Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven. (Psalm 85:11-12)

The LORD does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:6)

Desert Wilderness (2006)

The ways of this life can be rough. We walk narrow paths, we struggle up mountains, we stand at the edge of terrain we cannot imagine ever traversing safely. It can be hard to hope that we will come across safely, hard to persevere, hard to wait for an end we cannot truly see coming. Yet we walk in hope. (Michelle Francl-Donnay, Waiting in Joyful Hope 2020-2021)

In thinking about my journey this far, I wonder about all those who have prepared the way for me. Who has led me to this place? For whom am I preparing the way? Am I a John the Baptist for others? As I focus on preparing the way for the birth of Christ in me, I need to be aware of ways I can prepare the way for others. Can I help a friend or neighbor with Christmas shopping, for example? What incredible signs and wonders will I see today? Will I be open to receive them?

There have been times along the path when I felt paralyzed, that is, unable to move physically, emotionally, academically, socially, or spiritually. At such times, God sent people into my life to rescue me from paralysis. Advent is a good time for me to be grateful and to reflect on what might be paralyzing me from moving ahead on my journey. Overwork? Too many commitments? Too many deadlines? Overwhelming sadness? Feelings of isolation from the pandemic?

The Coming of the Light (2020)

Coming in the days of shortest daylight, Advent also resonates with the themes of light and darkness. We put lights in our windows and on our trees and light candles throughout the house. We wait for the source of our light and our salvation. One of my favorite Advent songs is “Light of the World/Luz del Mundofrom Jaime Cortez’s album, Adviento (2006). (You can find a performance by Jaime Cortez on YouTube.)

The readings for the second week of Advent seem to be a prescription of how to journey through life. I need to make plans, take action, and not expect my path to be made straight for me. God is leading, helping me to see the path. I need to look for opportunities to show mercy and justice. How often do our everyday choices make the difference between whether there is dark or light, wellbeing or conflict?

Advent Hymns

During Advent, we read from the Book of Isaiah – a lot. One of the more familiar passages is Isaiah 40:1-11. If you are familiar with this reading, you will probably be humming one or more hymns before you reach verse 11.

We sing some of my favorite hymns during Advent. Because the season is limited to four weeks, the hymns remain special for many years. (unlike Christmas carols and songs that we have been hearing on Hallmark since the middle of October!) Several composers have set Isaiah 40:1-11 to music. The 1982 hymn of Michael Joncas is called “A Voice Calls Out.” Notice how the verses echo the reading from Isaiah.

A voice cries out in the wilderness prepare a way for the Lord;
A voice cries out in the wilderness make straight a highway for God

Every valley is made a plain every mountain is leveled;
The glory of God shall be revealed and nations will sing your praise.

A voice shouts: “cry”; O, what shall I cry? All flesh is like grass and its flowers; The grass may wither the flowers may fade but the word of the Lord is forever.

Zion shout from the mountain top lift up your voice, O Jerusalem
And say to the people of God’s own land: “Behold, behold your God.”

The Lord will appear as a shepherd holding his lamb in his arms, Keeping his flock so close to his heart leading them all old and young.

Here are some of my other favorite hymns based on Isaiah 40:1-11: (You can find a performance of each by googling the title and composer.)

  • “All Flesh is Like the Grass” (2006) by Fernando Ortega
  • “Ready the Way” (1986) by Bob Hurd
  • “Ready the Way” (2004) by Curtis Stephan
  • “Let the Valley Be Raised” (1977) by Dan Schutte
  • “Every Valley” (1970) by Bob Dufford, SJ

and one, based on Isaiah 40:9-11 that we sing throughout the year: “Like a Shepherd” (1976) by Bob Dufford, SJ

Gardenia (2018)

The Week Ahead

Two feast days during the second week of Advent help us to mark this special time: Mary’s Immaculate Conception on December 8 and Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. The first feast day commemorates the doctrine that Mary was born free of original sin and its effects from the first moment of her existence. This special grace was conferred on her through the grace of God in anticipation of the redemption. We hail Mary in faith and prayer because she is “full of grace” and because “the Lord is with her.” In other words, Mary was filled with God well before the Messiah was conceived in her womb.

The second feast day celebrates the apparition in Guadalupe, Mexico in 1531. Near Tepayac Hill in central Mexico, Juan Diego encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. Speaking in his native Aztec tongue, the woman identified herself as the Virgin Mary. Within six years of this apparition, six million Aztecs had converted to Catholicism. In Mary’s willingness to hear the prayers of the indigenous peoples, she is recognized as the mother of the poor and the patron saint of the Americas.

When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America—the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. —Pope Francis

Q. In this Advent Season as you focus on preparing the way for the birth of Christ in each of us, are you aware of ways that you can prepare the way for others?

Q. How often do your everyday choices make the difference between whether there is dark or light, wellbeing or conflict?

Q. What are your favorite Advent hymns?

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