Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8
The message from today’s readings tells us to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus. With the approaching of Christmas, the day when we will be celebrating the incarnation of God on earth, we are reminded how the people of the Old Testament waited for the arrival of Baby Jesus as the promised Messiah. The advent message is clear the Lord is coming. Prepare the way of the Lord. We all know what it is like to wait. A big part of our lives is spent putting up with delays and maintaining our place in the great queue of life. This type of waiting sometimes is painful and requires of us to be detached and since we know why we are waiting we find a way to overcome the impatience and anxiety. There is another kind of waiting which fills us with the anticipation because we know something is going to happen and we are not fully aware what it is. There is a certain excitement that builds up within us and we are looking forward to something new. For instance, what is in the gift box, or who will come for my birthday or how does this story end or again will the friend come on time for the outing. For this kind of waiting we need to have an open mind, to be willing to accept whatever or whoever enters our world. There will be disappointments if we go ahead with preconceived ideas.
Advent is a time of waiting and we need to decide how we approach towards it. We have here the example of John the Baptist an outstanding personality, who invited people to prepare for the coming of the Lord by acknowledging their sins and asking forgiveness from God. He called them to change and never spoke of God or anything else. Once repentance took place he knew they would find the God. Through Isaiah, God told the people to prepare the way for His coming. They were not told when He would come, if it would be in a year, ten years or a hundred years. As Biblical history reveals to us, many generations went by before the Lord Jesus was born, in fact, about seven hundred years. God speaks to them symbolically in what follows. The people were told that every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low. The uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain.
The Second Reading, from the Second Letter of Peter, reminds us, on the one hand, of God’s great desire to come into our lives and, on the other, of the need to be prepared for that coming when it happens. Although people sometimes complain that God seems oblivious to their needs, the Letter reminds us that “the Lord is not being slow to carry out his promises”. On the contrary, “he is being patient with you all, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to change his ways”. Peter also speaks of the “Day of the Lord”, that final coming when God will call us all to account.
The Gospel today is the opening of the gospel according to Mark. He sets the theme for his gospel in his opening sentence: “The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” That is the story he wants to tell, or rather, the good news he wants to proclaim. Unlike John’s gospel, where the full identity of Jesus is put in the very first chapter, Mark’s presentation is one of a gradually unfolding identity of the man Jesus. In the Gospel we heard today that John the Baptist was the messenger who preached ahead of the Lord Jesus to prepare his way. When John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness, Jesus had not begun His public ministry yet. John the Baptist echoes the words of prophet Isaiah, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight.’ The moment has come and the time of waiting is over. Through the baptism of repentance that John the Baptist preached, the people were forgiven of their sins. Here we hear of the people confessing their sins. The people were transforming their lives, becoming righteous in preparation to receive the Lord Jesus.
It is clear that the “voice crying in the wilderness” or desert is that of John the Baptist about Jesus. There is no doubt that John was a prominent and charismatic figure who drew large crowds of people. His whole lifestyle spoke of a prophetic figure in the image of Elijah. John’s clothing is similar to Elijah’s. The desert always has a special significance in Scripture. It is a holy place, a place where God is specially to be found. It is also a place of struggle. It was in the desert that Jesus had his tussle with the Evil One. It was in the desert that Jesus often went to pray and in the desert that he fed the people.
John makes it clear that, despite his popularity and influence, he is only God’s “messenger”. Someone far more important is on the way. “I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals,” says John, describing a task given only to slaves. John’s role was to serve Jesus and to serve the people. “He must increase, I must decrease,” he says elsewhere (John 3:30). His whole life points to Jesus as Lord and Messiah. A second point is that John the Baptist reminds us that we, too, have a responsibility to proclaim the Good News of the coming of Jesus and to help people know and love him and experience his love in their lives just as other people have brought us to where we are. It is not easy in our society to find Jesus and to accept his values and vision of life.
We have a responsibility as Christians not only to ourselves but bring the Good News of God’s love to others. We need to present a message that is full of joy, a joy that is clearly mirrored in our own behaviour, because it flows out from an inner core of wisdom and peace. We have to present our faith not as something formidable and repressive and difficult but as bringing true liberation into people’s lives. We need to present a picture of God “like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering the lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast”. People are longing to hear a message that brings trust and hope, truth and integrity, peace and security, justice and compassion.
Today’s Gospel Reading finishes by telling us that while John baptized people with water and Jesus would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. Through Christ, we are called and sanctified to become in His likeness, holy, obedient and submissive to God’s Divine will, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit.