Sunday, Dec. 10, is the Second Sunday of Advent. Mass Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8
We are used to thinking about Advent as a season of hope — and we are used to thinking about hope as “God will bless us one day.”
That is good, as far as it goes, but John the Baptist in today’s Gospel reminds us what hope costs.
Says the Gospel, “John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
John didn’t appear in the desert proclaiming, “God is coming to change your lives!” He told people that they must change their lives because Christ is coming. It worked: “All the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.”
Real hope acts. Today’s first and second readings propose the same kind of hope: not the hope that we don’t have to worry about anything, but the hope that our hard work of faith will bear fruit
The announcement of “good news” in the first reading is this: “Here is your God! … [H]ere is his reward with him.” But notice what kind of God he is: He “comes with power” and “rules by his strong arm.”
St. Peter in the second reading warns that the Lord will come like a thief, and “the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar … and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.”
Given that the Mighty Lord will return in this way, he describes what sort of persons we should be: “conducting ourselves in holiness and devotion.”
He doesn’t say to be eager for a sure reward; he says we should “be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.”
Do we have a hard time feeling hopeful? Is your present situation hard and the future bleak?
Whatever our circumstances, today’s readings say we have a sure hope: that our repentance, prayer and service to the Lord will pay off. It stands to reason that the more repentance, prayer and service to the Lord we offer, the greater our hope will be.
In fact, if we don’t repent, pray and serve, we have no reason for hope. Pope Benedict, in his encyclical on hope, said only one thing can defeat God in our lives: our free choice.
“Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world,” he wrote. “Anyone who promises a better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom.”
We must continually make the right choices for our freedom to be open to God rather than against him. “Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good,” wrote Benedict.
So if you want more hope, take the one path that finds it: Pray more. Set a time. Do it. Examine your conscience. Repent. Look for opportunities to serve others. Hope will come flooding in.
As St. Peter said, “[H]e is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
That is real hope.
Tom Hoopes is writer
in residence at
Benedictine College and
author of The Fatima