Posted December 5, 2020
2nd Sunday of Advent, Yr B
The theme of ‘the way’, or ‘God’s way’, is important in the Old Testament. It evokes, first of all, the Exodus – the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, when God made his way through the wilderness to rescue his people. Later, as in today’s Reading from Isaiah (40: 1-11), the theme of ‘the way’ is applied to the Jews’ return to their homeland from exile in Babylon, seen as a second Exodus.
The theme of the way is also very important in the New Testament. In today’s Gospel Reading, from the very beginning of St Mark’s Gospel (1: 1-8), we once again have the theme of the way of the Lord through the wilderness. The reference now is not to the exodus from Egypt or the exodus from Babylon. The reference is, rather, to the way of the Lord Jesus, seen as a third exodus, more wonderful than any that had gone before. The way of the Lord Jesus is to bring about a total exodus of the human heart from the alienation of sin.
Notice how St Mark returns to the theme of the way later in his Gospel. When Jesus was approaching Jerusalem before his Passion, he was ‘on the way‘ to his death: ‘And they were on the way going up to Jerusalem’, St Mark tells us: ‘and Jesus was ahead of them.’ St Mark also mentions the blind man who was sitting ‘along the way‘, and Jesus spoke to him and immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus ‘on the way‘. In St Mark’s mind, these references to ‘the way’ are not just topographical indications. Rather, they are indications of the theological significance of what Jesus was doing in going to Jerusalem: he was following ‘the way’, the way of the Lord.
For us, the word ‘way’ is not a particularly religious word. I suppose the nearest we get to a religious use of the word is Frank Sinatra’s ‘I did it my way’. But for the Jews, including the early Christians, the word ‘way’ was a profoundly religious word. It evoked the way of the Lord leading his people through the wilderness to the promised land; and the way of the Lord Jesus, who leads us through his Passion to the glory of Easter. In a word, the ‘way’ is what our religion is all about. No wonder Jesus in St John’s Gospel, in answer to Thomas’ question, ‘How can we know the way?’, replies: ‘I am the Way’; and the Acts of the Apostles (9:2; 19: 9 etc.) calls the Christian movement, simply, ‘the Way’.
In terms of practical living, what does ‘the way’ involve? St Paul gives us a clue when he tells the Corinthians: ‘Now I am going to show you a way‘ that is far superior to even the highest spiritual gifts. This infinitely superior way is practical, day-to-day charity: it is the love of God poured out in our hearts, it is the very activity of God in the heart of our freedom, it is the love with which God himself loves, it is God’s Spirit ruling our hearts. That is the way, without which all spiritual gifts, all activities, however seemingly religious, are pointless, but which, when it is present, confers value on everything: because it is God’s way ‒ God himself journeying through our wilderness to lead us to freedom and fulfilment.
We are nearly half way through Advent. Another Christmas approaches. How time flies! And how eternity flies ‒ towards us! Soon the Lord will come. Let’s spend these days trying to make the rugged land smoother in our hearts and conscience. Prepare the Lord’s way. Remove the obstacles that only we can remove, and God will do the rest. How we shall sing and croon at the end of it all when, looking back, we shall be able to say: I did it God’s way! Do it God’s way during what remains of Advent! Make a good confession; open your hearts to God. Let St Paul’s ‘superior way’ motivate your concern for your neighbour and for people in need whom God’s providence will send you. And if you are discouraged, like the Jews in Egypt or the Jews in Babylon, then don’t be. The Lord’s way to the promised land always starts in the wilderness. ‘I will make a way in the wilderness’, God says in Isaiah, ‘and rivers in the desert. ‘
Fr Tom Deidun