Second Sunday of Advent, Year C
The entrance antiphon and gospel specifically, and the first reading and response more allusively speak of God’s role to “save” (give “salvation” to) Israel, believers, perhaps all humans and even creation. Now is a good time to ask exactly what that means, or at least what we expect. The first reading and the psalm paint a picture: sadness reversed, steep difficulties smoothed, suffering ended, return to the beloved land effected. John the Baptist uses the same language to urge preparation for Jesus, who will make tangible the saving done by God. But all that language functions as example, imagery pointing as well to something more. God saved some people in specifically those ways, but that does not exhaust the options. One of the most frequently heard complaints about God is the failure to “save” those we love when they are in straits of some kind. Again, what do we expect?
If we anticipate or feel entitled to a divine paramedic, I think we will be disappointed, or worse. Scripture sometimes paints that sort of dramatic response, but it is rare these days and perhaps was then as well, with the language being more imaginative and suggestive than literal. From what does God save us, and to what? What is God’s role and what is our own—for ourselves and other creatures? I think God wants to save us from non-relatedness with God and draw us into a fuller and deeper dwelling with the divine, such that every facet of our lives is transformed, including relations with all of God’s creation. For the past couple of weeks we have heard end-time language, where the key virtue was to “hang in,” to discern the key value and persevere in it. With the turn into Advent, I think we are being invited to something more fully participative and responsive. We do not save ourselves but our role is key. John the Baptist says he’s on the road gang, and the psalmist says they’ve been on the road. So saving starts practical, even prosaic. A prayer walk? A visit to the sick? Offering a lift to the store? But alert to God’s similar or analogous deed accomplished in us, God’s steps to help us, teaching us how to walk.