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Reflection on the Second Sunday of Advent

Posted on December 6, 2020, by Eleanor Craig SL


Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11        Ps 85:9-14        2 Peter 3:8-14        Mark 1:1-8


“Make way, make way” is a refrain usually shouted by those who announce the coming of someone important.  

In Biblical times, the important ones were troops of the Empire; Roman dignitaries and regional officials; exotic rulers from afar; wealthy landowners; important religious leaders. People such as these would send servants ahead of their entourage to prepare the way. Workers would not only smooth the rough roads, but also clear away the crowds and move the unwashed, unworthy and dangerous out of the way.  

We know what it means to smooth rough roads: We admired the recent road straightening on Hwy 49 to Lebanon where the tight curve was smoothed into a long gentle rise. Some years ago we watched the amazing land rearrangement on Bardstown’s outer road where the high ground was literally leveled and the deep valleys filled.  

In the Bible, “Make way, prepare the way” was proclaimed by prophets who recognized and announced the arrival of an important revelation of God.   John the Baptist, echoing Isaiah, said of himself, “It is my part to go ahead, to prepare the way for the great one who will follow me. But I myself am not worthy to undo the strap of his sandal — that is, I wouldn’t presume to serve him even on my knees; I dare not touch such a mighty one.”

The thing of it is, Jesus, the great one, did everything he could to take the part of the plain folks, to share the lot of the ordinary and the vulnerable, going so far as accepting death, even death on a cross like one of the lowest.  This is the one whose way we are preparing: one foretold and announced and prepared for as though he were a god, yet one who came and lived and died among us as though he were the simplest of us.  

 Jesus Christ is risen today. We are invited to welcome this Jesus by smoothing the rough ways for our neighbors great and small in whom the incarnate Christ lives again. Our Loretto rule encourages us this way: “It is important that nothing in our lives cuts us off from other human beings.  Rather we try to live so that everything about us, our words and works and manner of living promotes understanding and peace among ourselves and others. … To be such a power of reconciliation demands that we deeply respect diversity of being and diversity of gifts. It further demands that we collaborate with all those, whoever they may be, who seek to break down barriers between people and to build up human communion.”

Preparing the way means removal of obstacles and barriers and making the rough ways smooth, whether on the physical landscape, the cultural/political scene, or within our hearts.

Sometimes we recognize barriers and rough ways and see our part in causing them or our opportunity to eliminate them. Sometimes we ignore the impact of obstacles and barriers, and underestimate or shrug off the depth of alienation felt by others. Sometimes we are blind to the existence or even the possibility that something we are doing adds to the rough ways and obstacles in another’s life.   

Here at the Motherhouse, elements of our Community life that once were positive and unifying sometimes become physical barriers as circumstances gradually change. For example, here in the church, the setting of this altar on a dais once elevated the Eucharistic for all to see; in these days when we are few in numbers and quickly aging, the steps of the dais are increasingly a dangerous obstacle and even a barrier to participation. Perhaps it is time to make smooth the way.

Here’s another example: Some barriers are cultural and we become aware of them only when we glimpse the pain of exclusion in others’ eyes —   displayed around us here in the church, in our hallways and rooms, we have treasured statuary and paintings depicting Jesus and Mary and other holy ones as Europeans, modeled in the image of most of us. Gradually we are coming to see that these representations are not just inaccurate but can be obstacles for believers grounded in other cultural and racial traditions.

Here’s another example from our recent experience: People with limited formal education don’t always see things as we do, with our schooling and our heads full of facts and logic and conclusions. When Motherhouse workers resisted the aspiration “Black lives matter,” was that not an opportunity for us to learn from them about the barriers they experience and together work to smooth the way for them as well as for Black lives?

Today’s readings from Isaiah and about John the Baptist clear the way for us to ask whether we have an active part to play in preparing the way, whether it is our purpose, our vocation in life to seek out and take down barriers and make rough ways smooth; whether we will do the heavy lifting to take down hills and fill in valleys. And then the other question: For whom do we prepare a way? For the Christ who comes in glory?  For the Child Jesus who comes in humble obscurity?  For the Christ of our time, incarnate in vulnerable people, beleaguered creatures and in the threatened order of nature itself?

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Eleanor Craig SL

Eleanor has been a Sister of Loretto since 1963 and an educator since birth. She graduated from two of Loretto's best known St. Louis institutions, Nerinx Hall High School in 1960, and Webster University in 1967. She taught mathematics at Loretto in Kansas City, where her personal passion for adventure history inspired her to develop and lead treks along the historic Oregon Trail. From 1998 to 2010 she created an award-winning program of outdoor adventure along the Western trails for teens who are visually impaired. Eleanor claims to have conducted more wagon trains to the West than the Mountain Men! From 2012 to 2021, Eleanor led a talented staff of archivists and preservationists at the Loretto Heritage Center on the grounds of the Motherhouse. She recently retired, but still serves in the Heritage Center as Loretto Community Historian.