Advent Reflection, Sister Barbara Einloth
Reflection for Advent Vespers, December 10, 2023
In Jesus’ time and place, people went out into the desert where open space offered a change of setting and a place to think afresh. I know some people today who find desert space conducive to such thinking and change of attitude and heart.
In the passage we just heard, John the Baptist chose that setting for his preaching, his call for a change of heart. And people flocked to hear him. Something in his message drew people to hear more, to ponder the challenge, and to step into the River Jordan as a sign of their readiness for a change of life. Soaked as they emerged from the water, they bore a physical reminder that they had said yes to make a change in their lives—one of repentance, of penance.
Jesus was among those drawn to John’s person and preaching. We as Christians don’t believe that Jesus needed the message of repentance (what had he to repent of?), yet He went and He responded to John’s message by entering the water with the others. Sinful he was not, but one with His people, He was. The moment signaled a change for them all. I suggest that for Jesus, it signaled His openness to transition from a private person to a public person ready with insights to share and challenges to present and comfort to offer. Something crystallized for Him in the sequence of movements that day. He recognized that it was time to change—and He did!
John was calling people to deeper living. He called for the radical honesty of looking at their lives, of seeing—alongside the goodness—those not-like-God choices and actions, and to acknowledge them. He challenged people to face and to own their dark side. To be truthful about the times and ways they were not acting in synch with the God they believed in and worshipped. Jesus must have found in John’s challenge a call to make a change, to step out with His own message, to extend it to others.
Where do we—you and I—find ourselves on this Second Sunday of Advent 2023? We have chosen to be here for Vespers with other believers. Here, separate from our culture’s rush to the holidays, here where we pause to listen to God’s invitation to each of us. Yours is distinctive for you, mine for me. Here are some possibilities we might consider:
- Maybe it is a challenge, a “take stock of where you are and how you are living each day.”
- Maybe it is encouragement to look more honestly at your habits, especially the ones not really aligned to God’s hallmark qualities.
- Maybe it is a reminder to be gentler with yourself when you see your flaws and failures, to note them without beating up on yourself. The God we know from Jesus is not a beater-up-er!
- Or maybe it is a no-nonsense call to quit pretending that you don’t sin, and instead to see and name clearly what your words and actions are responsible for in other people’s lives.
- Again, maybe it is a dare for you to open your circle to include in your circle of care the very people whose views are polar opposites of yours.
- Or a push to see the hundreds of thousands of people suffering in the wars of Ukraine-Russia and Hamas-Israel, to feel with the pain real compassion and to let that pain press you to speak out, to act for peace.
- Maybe it is a call to actively hope despite the tragic realities of our time, to hope with the conviction that God is faithful and present and peace-making.
Each Advent we encounter John and Jesus, and we can learn from each. Advent is not a nostalgic look back. Rather, ours is a present day engagement with these two figures. In real time, this time, what is the insight, new practice or change of heart that John’s and Jesus’ examples pose to each of us? Will we choose the change they present to us so that–at Advent’s end and beyond—our hearts and actions are more aligned with God’s deep desires for us and the world of which we are participants (not bystanders)? God is calling! What is our response?
–Sister Barbara Einloth, SC