Second Sunday of Advent: What time are we leaving?

December 10, 2023  |  Sr. Eileen Reilly, SSND |  Today’s Readings

“Prepare the way of the LORD!” (Isaiah 40:3)


There is a situation that I’m sure occurs in households everywhere when someone shares the urgent message, “We’re leaving at 3 p.m. so we won’t be late!” 

This announcement can mean many different things for different people in the house. Someone may still be wrapping up a final task and starting to shut down the computer when 3 p.m. comes; someone else might begin to look for a coat at 3 p.m. Someone might be standing at the front door ready to leave at 3 p.m., and still someone else might already have a foot on the gas pedal, ready to pull out of the driveway promptly at 3 p.m.  

Does that sound familiar to you? This scenario is exactly what I thought of when I reflected on the readings for this Second Sunday of Advent.

I can’t think of any other Sunday in the liturgical year in which the readings convey such urgency. In the opening prayer, we hear that we should be “setting out in haste.” In the First Reading we are told, “cry out at the top of your voice” and “prepare the way of the Lord.” And the Gospel paints a stirring picture of a “voice of one crying out in the desert.”

The urgent call to prepare for the coming of Christ is clear in Advent — but it is an urgency that, like a 3 p.m. departure time, can be responded to in many different ways. For some, Advent is a time to speed up, busying oneself with family obligations or giving back to the community. For others, it’s a season for slowing down, preparing for Christmas through personal prayer and time in reflection. 

The act of preparation doesn’t look the same for everyone. This is also true of the way we prepare and work to end the death penalty.

When it comes to the work of abolition, sometimes we need to be the person whose foot is on the gas pedal. There is an unmistakable need for quick action in our advocacy efforts to stop scheduled executions and urge state legislators to abolish the death penalty.

But other times, the work of ending the death penalty, of “making straight in the wasteland a highway for God,” asks for our tenacity and patience instead. I think, for example, of Ohio, which will very likely be the next state to abolish the death penalty. Although there is certainly a great desire to continue momentum towards abolition, there are legislative hurdles to jump through that simply take time. Sometimes, the best thing we can do to support this movement is be vigilant, and wait.

This Advent, I sense a call to slow down, take a deep breath, and discern my next steps — to be the person that keeps their computer open just a little bit longer before heading out the door. I feel an invitation to “cry out” in a way that invites more people to join us in the work of transforming our criminal legal system.

We don’t know when the Lord will come. We don’t know when we’ll see an end to the death penalty. But the uncertainty does not stop our preparation.

Maybe, the message we are being challenged with this Advent is “hurry up and wait.”

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