Second Sunday of Advent
Readings: Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6
The experience is all-too-familiar to us: sitting in our respective car and fighting traffic. Horns honking, patience wearing thin, checking the time, trying to find something to listen to – traffic can be a particularly frustrating episode. Of course, there is no shortage of traffic in the DC metro area!
We all know as well the experience of driving on a road free and clear. Such driving may be characterized as easy, smooth, express. It is the direct opposite of sitting in traffic. These dual experiences of driving can help us to understand what our readings are talking about.
Both Baruch and John the Baptist talk about preparing the way: leveling mountains and filling in valleys and making crooked ways straight. This is an ancient phenomenon: making way on a road for a person importance, like a king. Maybe you’ve heard the line “Make way for the king” in a movie. The road, the way, had to be cleared so the king could get where he needed to go.
John the Baptist is saying that we need to clear the road for God; we have to get rid of the obstacles to relationship with God. The Gospel calls us to remove all that blocks awareness of our ever present and already given oneness with God. You see, there’s a lot of traffic between us and God. This congestion has to clear up for us to enjoy our oneness with God.
One of these major obstacles is getting stuck on negative thinking, that is, holding on to bad and painful experiences. John preached and practiced a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance in the Gospels may be translated well as “go beyond the mind,” the mind that holds onto sins, hurts, pains and negative experiences.
What is it about hurt feelings, bad experiences, and painful memories that stick with us so strongly? Some research suggests it takes a dozen good experiences to replace a single bad experience! Our minds get stuck on negative experience, almost seeming to cling to them for dear life, because these painful memories, regrets, and hurts build an identity that feels hard and real. Of course, it is a very fragile identity in reality; these painful memories and bad experiences are not who we are.
Holding onto a grudge or a negative experience of any kind is a roadblock to God. It is the traffic causing congestion on your personal highway to God. It seems like the mind only thinks monotonous, useless, and quite negative thoughts. Resentments hang around. Guilt and shame don’t go away. Our obsessive thinking becomes an emotional roller coaster. Because we are so riveted to this interior drama, we can’t see what is right in front of us. The truth of God dwelling within us, loving us beyond all comprehension, and being one with us totally escapes our notice. The interior traffic blocks awareness of who we really are, God’s beloved.
It’s like we’re in a bad movie and don’t know we can get up and leave. We’re so caught up in the story and drama of the characters on the screen that we think it’s real life! Even more, we use this bad movie to keep the focus on self, on what I’m thinking and feeling.
The Word of God came to John in the desert – this line from the Gospel suggests how we might deal with those negative experiences that feel like they are glued to our brains. The biblical image of the desert tells us how to go beyond our minds: we let our inner worlds be like a desert. The practice is to dwell in an inner desert, which means interior silence, pure faith, interior nothingness centered on the Mystery of God. The inner desert focuses us on God and in that way helps us let go of negative thoughts and feelings.
We repent when we enter the interior desert, let our thoughts and feelings be, and center our hearts on God. Such repentance, or going beyond the mind, fundamentally takes the focus off of self and places it on God. God helps us to let go of our negative experiences and all that keeps us self-preoccupied. As we remain in an interior desert, an interior silence, God frees us from ourselves so we can love God back and share this divine love with others. This is the repentance both John the Baptist and Jesus himself preach: going beyond the mind through pure faith and interior silence.
Whenever we get caught on a bad feeling or a regret or get trapped in shame, we repent. We return to God by being silent within. We sink beneath our thoughts and feelings then sink into God’s mercy. All that’s needed is a pure intention to God and a willingness to let go within. Repentance means returning our minds to God, bringing ourselves back into God’s Presence, and sinking beneath thinking into the incomprehensible mystery of God as often as we can throughout the day.
Indeed, once we repent, going beyond our minds in pure faith and interior silence, our flesh and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” We will all know God, we will all enjoy communion with the Infinite Mystery, which we have now but have not yet tapped into – we do not know this divine communion because of all the obstacles…but we have it! We don’t have to work for God or make mystical oneness with God happen – that’s the good news: we are already one with God, all we have to do is clear the road so we can know God who dwells in our home, our center.