2nd Sunday Advent – Some Origins & Situating Repentance
Advent developed from two different traditions. In Rome through the 11th century, Christians commemorated the coming of the Lord in the flesh, his incarnation. For example, the 7th century “O Antiphons” celebrated the first coming of Christ (“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”). Later and just north of Rome, St. Francis of Assisi constructed the first living crèche with animals, shepherds, and Jesus in the stable during the early 1200s.
However, the church in Gaul, probably influenced by the Celtic monastic 40-day fast before Christmas, developed a 4-6 week season emphasizing Christ’s return as judge on the last day. Hence, the gospel readings about “Watch! Be Alert!” and, “Repent!” Purple vestments and fasting from the Gloria exemplify this. Did you know that the Dies Irae was composed for the season of Advent in Gaul? It’s a gospel sequence many of us elders would recognize as belonging to the Mass of the Dead. It speaks of the final days when the heavens dissolve in Christ’s final coming.
These came together in Rome by the 12th century. And today, both the birth of Christ in Bethlehem and his future coming on the Last Day shape our Advent prayer. The season invites us to remember & repent.
It isn’t so odd, then, to discover this focus on repentance in Advent as a way to prepare to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord. That is why, I believe, we have the Baptist – Jack the Dipper [thank you, Dennis Hamm, SJ!] – calling all to repentance on this second Sunday of Advent!
As I understand this, repentance concerns our capacity to receive the mercy & glory of God revealed in the Nativity of Jesus Christ. What might we repent from in order to make room for this glorious proclamation from Isaiah 40:1-11?
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God…
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms,
he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
In other words, can we let go of the anxieties & worries of the holidays, the old hurts that still haunt us, the emptiness that the fullness around us exacerbates, the alienation from family & others, the anticipation of disappointment in order to hear the Word?
Or, better: what if we began to recognize how all these things we avoid & reject can become the place of encounter, the new place of meeting, Bethlehem in our hearts? Seems to me that this journey takes us into where Jesus was born – and where he is born every day – fear, night, rejection, poverty, and so much more we reject.
Happy Advent. May we seek him in Bethlehem! –roc,sj