This week we hear a near unanimous message from our readings. Prepare the way!
The author of Isaiah says to the Jewish people: prepare the way of the LORD, fear not to cry out.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist quotes these same words from Isaiah: You are called to prepare the way.
And perhaps it comes most descriptively in the Psalm: Justice shall walk before God and prepare the way.
I see this as a reminder that Advent is not a passive waiting but active preparation. We are invited to cooperate with God, working together to prepare the way. For God’s kingdom won’t show up on its own.
This speaks to a theology of the kingdom I find particularly useful, often called “already but not yet.”
It holds both things to be true.
The kingdom of God is already around us. We get glimpses of it in the liminal moments of daily life that point to something bigger. In the silent grace of a first snowfall, in the joy of a child's face on Christmas morning, in the strength of communities coming together in the face of despair, and in the small wins we achieve in the fight for justice.
The kingdom is not yet here in its fullness. This not yet part has felt particularly present in these past few months, as we see war reign across the world, harrowing spikes in anti-seminitism and Islamophobia, an epidemic of teenage loneliness, and extreme weather as a result of the climate crisis. This is certainly not yet any kingdom I’d be satisfied with.
So we must prepare the way. To seek, to reveal, to move towards the kingdom in all its fullness.
I think of the great reverend doctor Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution,” from which we get the quote “the arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice.”
I love this quote. And yet I feel it is too often stripped of MLK’s radical call and context in place of reassurance or blanket positivity.
The arc of the moral universe does bend towards justice but it does not bend on its own. It is bent through the resolute and communal efforts of people.
MLK warns us not to wait. He calls out the “appalling silence and indifference of the “good people” who sit around and say, "Wait on time."
In school, I am often reminded that the “church works in centuries not years” and “look how much progress we have made!”
Yes, change takes time. The arc is long. We must be patient.
But, being patient does not mean slowing down our efforts. Patience does not ask me to stay silent for fear of rocking the boat nor delaying until everyone is ready for change; for they may never be.
Patience means do the work. Prepare the way! Just don’t give up in the face of slow progress.
So how do we prepare the way?
There is no one singular answer. Rather we must ask ourselves, how can I use my own unique gifts to enact change? How can I reveal the kingdom in my own particular context? We each have a role to play.
Let’s consider the question of women in the church.
Perhaps, you pursue structural change in response to the Synod on Syndality participating in continued listening sessions and follow up work for part two next year. Perhaps you raise your voice in a communal rallying cry through organizations such as Discerning Deacons. Perhaps you create spaces for authenticity, vulnerability, and support amongst women in your community. Perhaps you model for your own daughter, what it looks like to take up space and set boundaries.
For me, I consider this simple act of preaching a step in preparing the way, refusing to let my voice be silenced and calling for other marginalized voices to be heard.
There are so many ways for each one of us to prepare the way. Big and small. And yet knowing the arc is long, we cannot do it alone. It must be communal work.
Who are your communities? Who do you turn to when the arc is long? And how do you uplift others in return?
I myself look to an entire sisterhood of strong women in my life who sustain me. My classmates who join in communal lament after a day when the lack of female voices feels particularly heavy, my mentors who remind me of my worth and ability when imposter syndrome rears its ugly head, my friends who use humor in the face of oppression and belly laughter as an act of resistance. My supervisors who remind me to slow down, drink water, take care of my body.
Maybe it would be easier if we just had to wait around for the kingdom to arrive. To believe if we are patient, someday everything will just fix itself. Senseless violence will cease and peace will reign.
But our readings say otherwise. They seek to shake us awake and point out that just waiting around for the kingdom to come is at best a false hope and at worst a form of escapism. They call us forth towards the kingdom already but not yet.
So this Advent, let us prepare the way. And most importantly, let us be on that way together.
Sarah Hansman (she/her) is currently an MDiv student at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry. Her studies come after numerous years in the corporate world and much discernment. While the worlds are different, Sarah draws upon her corporate experience as one that built her confidence in using her voice, persisting in the face of the oft said “no,” and commitment to authenticity in every context.
Sarah’s ministerial experience spans various settings. She has directed numerous retreats, worked as the development manager for the nonprofit Women’s Foundation of Boston, serves weekly at a medium security men’s prison, and spent this past summer as a chaplain at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Sarah sees preaching as an act of resistance and hope. She seeks to use her voice to inspire others who feel their voices are not heard or are not worthy to be heard in the Catholic Church. She plans to pursue doctoral studies, with a desire to engage questions and positive reconstructions of embodiment, sexuality, and gender in Catholic contexts.
In her free time, Sarah enjoys long runs along the Charles River, reading the work of her “spiritual mentors” Brian Doyle and Cheryl Strayed, and attempting to write half as well as them.
The second of three volumes from the Catholic Women Preach project of FutureChurch offers homilies for each Sunday and holy days of the liturgical year by Catholic women from around the world. The first volume for Cycle A received awards for best book on Liturgy from both the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Catholic Media Association.
“Catholic Women Preach is one of the more inspiring collection of homilies available today. Based on the deep spirituality and insights of the various women authors, the homilies are solidly based on the scriptures and offer refreshing and engaging insights for homilists and listeners. The feminine perspective has long been absent in the preached word, and its inclusion in this work offers a long overdue and pastorally necessary resource for the liturgical life of the Church.” - Catholic Media Association
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