Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
There is a favourite Comensoli story told on family gatherings, much to the embarrassment of my niece. It’s the story of when, at the age of four, she was the flower-girl at her Aunty’s wedding. It was quite the day, where she got to be at the centre of all the action: had the hair and make-up done with the gown-ups, got the photos taken, walked beautifully up the aisle, and sat at the head table. But most particularly, it was a super dress-up day: a lovely white silken dress, a tiara and veil, stockings, and little white leather shoes. My niece was having her most princess-y day ever.
The drama came at the end of the evening. It was not a day my niece ever wanted to end. Over-tied, she simply refused to remove any of the signs of the day – no to the dress, no to the tiara and veil, no to the make-up, and certainly no to those lovely buckled shoes she’d complained about all day. The princess was simply not going to allow her special day to be ended by her mean, worn-out parents. I’m told the tantrum was long, determined and rather impressive. So, to bed she went, with it all staying on, until the following morning.
I recalled this story as I read today’s first reading from the Prophet Baruch: Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you, put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head: since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven.
We can be tempted to treat Advent as a shorter version of Lent; a mini penitential season. But Advent is fundamentally different from Lent. The clothes of sorrow and contrition are to be removed, not put on; the crown of glory is to be worn, not hidden away. The Lord wants his people to go forward in splendour, not wrapped in sackcloth and ashes.
Given the vision of Baruch, the most appropriate image for the season of Advent is what we might associate with the preparations for a wedding. There is meant to be excitement in the air, as a new day is dawning – a day full of promise and joy, and especially hope.
This image helps to give the right sense to John the Baptist’s call from the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. John was preparing the people for the dawn of God into our lives. The bridegroom – the Messiah – is coming; get ready!
Such a rallying cry, of course, needs something akin to the bracing splash of cold water on sleepy heads. The sins we all commit do need to be washed away: we need to clean up ourselves – to repent of our sins – so that the splendour of God can sit properly upon us. You don’t put on the wedding clothes until after you’ve had a wash and made yourself clean. Advent is a season of preparation: to wake up, to wash ourselves clean, and so to fittingly welcome the bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
On this 2nd Sunday of Advent, closest to the beautiful feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, we are especially reminded of this blessed time for joyful and fitting preparation. Mary’s immaculate conception is a reminder that sin is not meant to be a part of our human nature. And Mary’s assumption into heaven is a reminder that death is not meant to be the final destination for our human nature.
Mary is our hope that sin and death will not have the victory, because Christ has come to renew our humanity. Humanity is to shine once more like we were made to shine at creation. Mary, therefore, is our star of hope, and Advent is a time to prepare for our own wedding feast with God.