Second Sunday of Advent – Year B

11 December 2023

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

Second Sunday of Advent – Year B


[Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85; 2Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8]

My visit to the parish began Friday morning with participation in Faith Day for division staff of Red Deer Catholic Schools. As I entered Saint Joseph school, just about every second person I met asked me: “How are the roads?” They were fine coming from Edmonton, so I was a bit surprised by the question, but I learned later the concern arose from rather bad conditions south of Red Deer.

How are the roads? From now on, that is a question we shall hear and ask often, because winter highway driving in Alberta depends on roads that are clear and safe. That same question, “how are the roads?”, also arises from the Scripture passages for this mass. There, the question pertains to the “highways” along which the Lord comes to meet us, and those over which we travel to follow him. These, too, must be kept free from hazards so the journey will unfold in safety and peace.

Let’s begin with the Gospel passage. We hear the familiar designation of John the Baptist as the prophet foretold by Isaiah, the one sent to prepare the Lord’s way. When the roads of our province are snow-covered, snowplows and sand trucks are sent out to clear them. John is sent to show the people how to clear the roads of their hearts so that the Lord may come into their lives. That clearance, John teaches, is brought about by repentance, that is to say, by a complete change of mind, attitude, and behaviour. This is the “clearing” that now traditionally marks our observance of the season of Advent, when we prepare not only to celebrate at Christmas the Lord’s first arrival among us, but also his second coming at a moment unknown to us. That road of readiness to welcome the Lord must always be kept clear by a humble and contrite heart.

There is also another road that marks our lives as Christians. Here I mean the road of discipleship. As John said, the one coming after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit. When that promise was fulfilled in us, when we were baptized in the sacred font, the Holy Spirit gave us new life in Christ and set us on the road of following the Lord Jesus to eternal life. When we turn to the other scriptural texts, we see that they point out certain hazardous road conditions that can affect us along the way the Lord marks out for us.

The first is despair. Today there is a great amount of anxiety, fear, and a general sense of hopelessness, weighing heavily upon many people. It acts like a snow squall on the highway, so blinding our sight that we feel the need to “pull over” along the side of life, waiting in fear that something terrible might come up and hit us from behind. In these anxiety-ridden conditions, we need to hear again the ancient words of Isaiah: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” He is speaking to his own people, sidelined and helpless because they had turned from God. He tells them to take comfort because God will draw near in mercy. Today we know that God has fulfilled that promise in the gift of Jesus, His Son, who remains always with us. The blinding snowsqualls of fear dissipate when we turn to him in faith and hold fast to the truth of his love. Faith in Jesus gets us back on the road and keeps us there safely.

Another hazardous road condition imperilling our following of Christ is impatience. It happens often that, as we travel along a two-lane road in winter, we come up behind a slow-moving vehicle. The longer we have to wait to get past it the more we grow impatient. At times we are sorely tempted to take a risk and move over into the lane for oncoming traffic, even when the conditions are not good for passing. Impatience on the road can be very dangerous. So, too, in our spiritual lives. When God does not seem to be answering our prayers quickly, we can grow impatient with Him and move out into a lane of our own making. That is always fraught with peril. Hear again St. Peter as he counsels us to be patient. “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” St. Peter is here admonishing us to stay in the Lord’s lane and allow him to set the speed of our lives. The Lord is always at work, assigning to us both lane and limit. He acts without error, in his own time, so we must trust that he is at work to keep us on the road leading to salvation.

As we live our Christians lives, we strive not only to stay on the Lord’s road ourselves but also to help others do the same. In the winter months we tend naturally to look out for one another by helping people in need keep driveways plowed and sidewalks clear. If someone gets stuck in a snowdrift, we rally to get the vehicle out. These images describe well what I have witnessed this weekend in the parish. I met with a large group of young men and boys who support one another in the life of faith by praying the rosary together virtually every night, engaging in Bible study, seeking faith formation, serving at mass, and playing sports. I visited Villa Marie, where staff and volunteers are wonderfully attentive to seniors in our community. From my meetings with representatives of the pastoral and finance councils, liturgy committee, Knights of Columbus, CWL, the El Shaddai group, and office staff, I have learned of the many activities in which you are engaged to serve the life of this community of faith and reach out to those in need. I am greatly encouraged and deeply edified by the various ways you are helping one another to travel both safely and joyfully along the road of discipleship. Thank you.

How are the roads? Let’s entrust the answer to Jesus. In a few moments we shall turn to the altar of the Eucharist, from which we are given the wondrous gift of communion with Jesus Christ. His love that makes the road of discipleship both straight and clear. May the mercy we receive from him in this sacrament keep us safely on it.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith

Sacred Heart Parish, Red Deer, Alberta

December 10th, 2023