Sunday, Dec. 6 is the Second Sunday in Advent (Liturgical Year C, Cycle II). Tuesday, Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, is a holy day of obligation.


Papal

Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception as the pope does every year — giving his “Homage to the Immaculate” on the Spanish Steps in Rome, which are decorated for the day with flowers.

The Holy Father explained the custom last year: “It is a tradition that the pope joins with the homage of the city, bringing Mary a basket of roses,” he said. “These flowers express our love and devotion: the love and devotion of the pope, of the Church of Rome and of the inhabitants of this city, who feel they are spiritual children of the Virgin Mary.”


Saints

December is full of important feast days.

Dec. 6 — St. Nicholas. In the liturgy, St. Nicholas’ Day is replaced by the regular Sunday observance, but you can still honor St. Nicholas in your home. We always have our children put their shoes out the night before. In the morning, they find them filled with chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. The real St. Nicholas offered real coins to girls in need of a dowry — which was essential to avoid a life of degradation.

Dec. 8 — the Immaculate Conception. Pray the Glorious Mysteries. People often confuse the Immaculate Conception — which celebrates Mary’s freedom from original sin from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb — with the Annunciation, when Jesus was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit. The assumption of Mary and her coronation might be more helpful to illustrate that point than the Joyful Mysteries are.

Dec. 9 — St. Juan Diego

Dec. 12 — Our Lady of Guadalupe

During the canonization of St. Juan Diego, much was learned about the Mexican saint whom some wrongly considered legendary. After he had his vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the bishop built the church she asked for, it is said that Juan was a kind of caretaker at the shrine. He would meet pilgrims, show off his tilma, and pray for the future of his country. The tilma exists, miraculously, to this day, with the image still on it.


Readings

Baruch 5:1-9; Psalms 126:1-6; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6


Our Take

Today’s first reading, Psalm and Gospel all have the same message: We are in exile now, but our exile will soon be over.

In the first reading and Psalm, it was the Babylonian exile, after the Jewish people were driven out of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. Israel was “led away on foot by their enemies,” but God will bring back Jerusalem in an extraordinary way.

He won’t just allow them back in; they will be carried like kings, “borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.” And since it’s annoying to go through dips and bumps and hills while being carried on a throne, “every lofty mountain [will] be made low … the age-old depths and gorges [will] be filled to level ground.”

The end of exile will mean glory for Israel and “weeping turned to rejoicing.”

Well, the Jewish people did indeed return to Jerusalem, and God has blessed that return with glory in historical memory, but history doesn’t record that the geography was literally changed to allow for Israel to be carried back aloft.

The Gospel raises the same images, though, when John the Baptist announces Christ.

By couching the language in a message of repentance, John makes it clear that it’s the shape of the spiritual geography of believers that has to change. In our hearts, we have to repent and “make straight the paths” for the Lord to enter. We need to find the hills and valleys in our souls and level them off.

That’s what Advent tries to convince us to do: Confess our sins, repent, and start a new chapter.

Then, when Christmas comes, there will be fewer annoying rough patches and a smoother path into our hearts for the newborn King to follow.

Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas.