Opening the Word: Awaiting redemption

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Timothy P O'MalleyThese days, with instant delivery from Amazon or our local supermarket, we are not used to waiting. Even the smallest delay in the loading of a website is an occasion of near sin.

And yet, over the last nine months, we have been forced to wait. We waited for an end to the first lockdown related to COVID-19. We waited for cases to drop in our communities. And we still wait for a marginal return to normalcy, for a vaccine that enables us to gather once more with one another.

This experience of keeping vigil for a vaccine, for liberation from an endless COVID-tide, could be salutary for the Catholic desiring to learn a posture of Advent vigilance.

Israel, after all, knew what it meant to wait for the Lord. The kingdom of Judah was in exile in Babylon, longing for a return to the land of the Temple. Their wait was not brief — nearly 70 years separated from the Promised Land.

December 6 – Second Sunday of Advent
Is 40:1-5, 9-11
Ps 85:9-12, 13-14
2 Pt 3:8-14
Mk 1:1-8

And yet, this waiting was not fruitless. Their longing for God grew. The comfort that the Lord offered bore fruit in a heart waiting for liberation from captivity.

On this Second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist is announced with the very words of comfort spoken by God in the prophet Isaiah. Just as God opened a highway through a desert of desolation, John the Baptist announces to the remnant of Israel that the time of redemption is at hand.

John is a prophet, clothed with camel’s hair, eating locusts and wild honey. His strangeness and simplicity are at once part of the proclamation. Turn away from sin, recommit yourself to fidelity to the Law.

And yet, John speaks to the gathered crowds in the Judean desert about a further posture of vigilance. There is someone coming greater than John. John may be the first rays of dawn of the kingdom, but he is not the sun. The crowds must wait for the coming of the Messiah, the one whose sandals the Baptist is not fit to tie.

We know who John is waiting for. We know his name: Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One. We know that he is the one who has come to heal us from the power of sin and death, who died upon the cross and rose again.

And yet, we share with the gathered crowd in the desert a vocation to vigilance. Christ will come again. He will come to judge the nations, he will come to wipe tears from the eyes of all who wait for redemption, he will come to address you and me.

Christians must maintain our posture of vigilance. Christ is coming.

And the very same longing we have for the end of COVID-19, for the advent of a vaccine and for a chance to celebrate the holidays with our family is how we should approach the second coming of Jesus Christ.

We must not grow tired of waiting for Our Lord, lax in our awareness that Christ will come again. Longing is salutary for us. Desire for the presence of Our Lord is good.

The waiting, of course, is hard. It is hard to await the end of a virus that has killed so many. It is difficult to be vigilant, to wear our masks, to keep a distance from one another.

And yet, waiting increases our desire. Just as we long for the end of COVID, we must learn to anxiously await the return of Our Lord.

Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus Christ, come to redeem the nations. Come into my heart.

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

Timothy P. O'Malley

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.