Meditation for the Second Sunday of Advent
[Tegel Prison; Berlin; December 1944]
The value or worthlessness of human life, its profundity or shallowness, depends very much on the conditions of our existence. Life ought to preserve its real stature and not dissipate itself in superficial interests or empty sterility. Western civilization is responsible for much misconception, foreshortening of views, distortion and so both in public and personal life. We are the products of that faulty outlook. Distortion is the great danger inherent in man’s nature to which we as a generation seem to have been more than ordinarily prone.
Moments of grace, both historical and personal, are invariably linked with an awakening and restoration of genuine order and truth. That , too, is part of the meaning of Advent. Not merely a promise, but rather conversion and transformation. Plato would have said preparation for the reception for truth. St. John the Baptist more simply called it a change of heart. The prayers and the message of Advent shake a man out of his complacency and make him more vividly aware of all that is changeable and dramatic in his life.
Therefore, the First Sunday has the shock of awakening as its theme; it is concerned with underlining man’s helplessness, his turning towards God the pivot of his life, his appeal for divine freedom to recompense the helpless movement of surrender…
The second Sunday carries these thoughts a stage further making them more concrete through the exercise of personal will. The message of this second Sunday can be divided into three parts: the first, affirmation, emphasizing God’s reaching out towards man. God is always the one who approaches. Not just occasionally but at all time. Affirming that he comes for our healing and salvation, the injunction to man to take God seriously, the man who trusts in God will be steadfast and equal to whatever is demanded of him.
Second—all this is not a simplification or a neutralization of life. God’s blessing while giving man the pleasure of freedom does not relieve him of responsibility. The encounter with God is not of man’s choosing either in regard to the place or the manner of it. Therefore the central portion of the message runs: “Blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me.” That is to say God is approaching but in his own way. The man who insists that his salvation shall depend on his own idea of what is right and proper is lost. It means further that the starting point at which contact is made with Christ. The way to salvation in the world is the way of the Saviour. There is no other way. We have to see this clearly and constantly affirm it.
Third, the keynote of this Sunday is the decision, the deliberate choice of salvation in Christ. As a decision regarding the afterlife; this love of heavenly things is a difficult and weighty matter. As a decision in favor of freedom from petty entanglements and points of view—arise and stand on high; the heights determine the range and vision and the air a soul may breathe. As a decision for character and attitude (the figure of John the Baptist). As a decision for Christian mission; our salvation depends upon our leading a Christian life, which cannot be separated from personal obligation to the figure and the mission of Christ. As a decision to let the grace of God work in us (collect: Awaken our hearts, the companion piece to last Sunday’s Awaken your power), that God may break open our narrowness that confines us within ourselves and render us capable to receive Him and capable of His mission.
So this Sunday we must again fold our hands and kneel humbly before God in order that his salvation maybe active in us and that we may be worthy to call upon Him and be touched by His presence. The arrogance so typical of modern man is deflated here; at the same time the icy loneliness and helplessness in which we are frozen melts under divine warmth that fills and blesses us.
[The Prison Meditations of Father Delp]