Advent is really a season in two parts, with the first two weeks concerned with the Lord’s coming as Judge of all at the end of time and the second two weeks serving as the proximate preparation for His coming in the flesh. Our activities, like the Church’s readings, should reflect this dual character.
The Old Testament readings of Advent set the mood and theme each week. As we hear these readings, we need to look at our own dreams and expectations. How do we express them? The prophets of the Old Testament used beautiful poetic expressions, such as the lamb lying at peace with the lion, swords being beaten into plowshares, and the great banquet to come that will be presided over by the Lord. What poetic and symbolic expressions would we use to describe the age that is to come when we will know the Lord fully? What does the “Day of the Lord” mean for us? Can we identify with the dreams of the prophets? Advent is a season of anticipation.
John the Baptist is a key symbol of Advent preparation. The prophet Isaiah is quoted to show how John is preparing the people for Christ’s coming. When the Jews were held captive in Babylon, they built roads for their captors. A day would come, Isaiah wrote, when they would build a highway for their God to prepare the way for His coming. Valleys would be filled in, and hills would be lowered for the “king’s highway.” In a similar fashion, the Church says today, John the Baptist is calling on us to prepare a road so that Christ can come.
This reading from the book of Baruch (which constitutes the entire fifth chapter) is similar to last week’s reading from Zechariah. All the valleys will be raised and the mountains lowered “so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God” (Baruch 5:7). This is powerful poetry that provides us with images of the perfect day of the Lord. The Lord will provide His people with a smooth highway leading them back to their own land from the Babylonian captivity.
Saint Paul writes to the people of Philippi with the same concern that we heard expressed in last week’s second reading. The people must always be ready for “the Day of 3 Christ” which can come at any time. If we are to be true to the Advent season we must emphasize the second coming of Christ before we move to the first coming in Bethlehem.