Second Sunday of Advent – Year B


Gary N. McCloskey, O.S.A.
St. Thomas Monastery
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Is 40:1-5, 9-11
Ps 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14
2 Pt 3:8-14
Mk 1:1-8

“Be God’s Amazing Grace”

When I hear today’s 2nd reading from 2 Peter, echoing Psalm 90:4, when it tell us “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day,” I remember one of the later verses of John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace.” In that verse John Newton wrote:

When we’ve been there
Ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ll have no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

But when I hear that verse of the hymn, I am also struck by the otherworldliness of its spirit in relation to the rest of the hymn and the life of its author, John Newton. The hymn is about the spiritual story of Newton’s conversion from being a slave trader, human trafficker, to being a penitent theologian who is grateful for the work of God’s mercy in his life, or as he prayed,

Through many dangers
Toils and snares
We have already come
‘Twas grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home.

Even as Peter is otherworldly in our reading, he also brings us back down to earth calling us to hasten the coming of the grace of God while we are waiting. In addition to Advent being a time to celebrate waiting for God’s coming, it is also time of special Graces from God. The recent troubles we have been facing remind us of the urgency of God’s message. As Peter reminds us, “God does not delay his promise.”

Our Responsorial Psalm captures the pleas of God’s people for that promise. As we prayed together to God, “Let us see your kindness.” In expecting that promise of kindness, we need not only to look to God but, probably of equal importance, we need to look around us, to our neighbors and ourselves as being part of the promise. As co-deliverers of the promise we need to have what Sean Goan calls “Wakefulness in Winter.” In our wakefulness this winter, this Advent, this Christmas, we have to hear Isaiah in our 1st reading calling us to be part of the care for and comfort of God’s people here and now. Likewise, in our winter wakefulness we need to hear John the Baptist of our Gospel calling us to be a voice for God’s people in their wilderness here and now. In both these regards we need here and now to be part of God’s Amazing Grace that John Newton describes so convincing.

The God of Christmas is often called, Emmanuel, that is “God is with us.” In responding to today’s Scriptures, how can we be wakeful enough to be a comfort and a voice ushering God into our here and now rather than waiting for entry into the next life to find Him? Being a comfort and a voice is bringing God’s kindness, his mercy, to God’s hurting people. In our Catholic Doctrine, drawn from Scripture, God’s kindness and mercy is embodied in the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

As we remember, the Corporal Works of Mercy are:

• Feed the hungry.
• Give water to the thirsty.
• Clothe the naked.
• Shelter the homeless.
• Visit the sick.
• Visit the imprisoned
• Bury the dead.

And the Spiritual Works of Mercy are:

• Instruct the unknowing.
• Counsel the doubtful.
• Admonish the sinners.
• Bear patiently those who wrong us.
• Forgive offenses.
• Comfort the afflicted.
• Pray for the living and the dead.

We can easily see in these works of mercy that if we perform them on God’s behalf, “God does not delay his promise” of kindness and mercy. If we are wakeful in performing them as God’s comforting care and voice, we will be hastening the coming of God to God’s people. We may say in the winter of these COVID times, with our social distancing, that it is hard to be wakeful and do these works. But now more than ever, people may need to find God’s kindness and mercy really working in their lives. Even though the Corporal Works of Mercy may be more difficult to accomplish in these times, the Spiritual Works of Mercy may be more possible to perform at distances through phone calls, email exchanges, FaceTime, Zoom, or other visual or audio connections.

To be wakeful in the winter of this Advent and to be part of God’s kindness and mercy this week, let us pause and think of one Spiritual Work of Mercy that we can bring to others as God’s messenger of comfort, hastening the coming of Emmanuel, the God of Christmas. Again, let us hear the Spiritual Works of Mercy:

• To instruct the unknowing.
• To counsel the doubtful.
• To admonish the sinners.
• To bear patiently those who wrong us.
• To forgive offenses.
• To comfort the afflicted.
• To pray for the living and the dead.

In our wakeful performing of a Spiritual Work of Mercy, let us pray that God can work through us hastening God’s people’s experience of His comfort and kindness as well as their hearing His voice in the wilderness of their lives. Let us pray as well that we can wakefully be a part of “God’s Amazing Grace,” the Amazing Grace that John Newton so richly describes.