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Second Sunday of Advent - Year B - Dec 7, 2014

Gospel MK 1:1-8

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”
John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


Reflecting & Living God’s Words

Second Sunday of Advent - Year B - Dec 7, 2014
Gospel MK 1:1-8


Second Sunday of Advent - Year B - Dec 7, 2014

(Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 84; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8)

"You’ve finally arrived!" That’s what we say to someone after waiting for them on a street corner. What makes the waiting worse is bad weather or rush-hour crowds jostling us. We check our watches and look in all directions, not sure how the one we are waiting for will arrive" On foot? From which direction? By taxi, bus or car? What’s taking them so long? The sun is going down and the thermometer is dropping. Waiting and wondering are made worse by our discomfort. What adds to the frustration and the doubts are still more questions. Did they forget the appointment? Have we gotten the time or location wrong? Should we turn up our collars and continue to wait or head for home? We try calling them and we get their voicemail! What should we do? When they finally arrive we greet them with, "You’ve finally arrived! What took you so long?"

Today’s reading from Isaiah is taken from a section of the book called "Second Isaiah" (chapters 40-55). It was written towards the end of Israel’s exile in Babylon (circa 550 B.C.E.). The first part of Isaiah (chapters 1-39) made it abundantly clear that if the people didn’t change their ways catastrophe would befall them. And so it did. The Babylonians crushed Israel and carried their prime citizens off into slavery. The people have been enslaved and, along with the misery, come doubts about their God. Had God abandoned them? When would God come to their aid? What was taking so long?

Today’s reading begins the second part of Isaiah. Was the message of hope it offered a comfort to those enslaved? It was, if they trusted the prophet’s words. Otherwise, so many years of pain might have caused them to become cynical to what Isaiah was saying or, at the least, doubtful. They might have had the kind of doubts we have as we stand in the cold waiting and wondering if we misheard the information about our appointment. "What did they tell me? How reliable are they? Suppose they forgot? And here I stand, uncomfortable and confused!" Isaiah reassures the exiles that God has not forgotten them despite their doubts. God did not turn away from them, despite their sins and apostasy.

We listen to the prophet from whatever uncomfortable "street corner" we find ourselves at this point in our lives. Isaiah’s words don’t bring about an immediate lift. But they do encourage us to have hope. God has not forgotten us after all. God knows our pain and speaks tender and assuring words to us, "Comfort, give comfort to my people…."

The first reason for the comfort is that God has forgiven the people and is coming to them. God comes swiftly to forgive and heal. A highway is prepared, the roads straightened, the valleys filled in – God is in a rush to get to us. For some reason we may have to wait longer, but we do not give up as we lean on the prophet’s words for support and cling to the hope his words offer.

Suppose we were waiting on a street corner for someone and the hour was late, the light fading and the temperature dropping. Suppose we were having those doubts about whether we had the day, time and place right. Suppose the person we were waiting for didn’t come, but someone we trust arrived and told us, "I can assure you, he is coming. Don’t give up, stay ready." That was John the Baptist’s job. He was the forerunner of the Messiah; one with God-given authority to prepare the way.

Mark’s gospel is chronologically the first of the New Testament books. Its opening words announce a "beginning" (just as Genesis did, "In the beginning…"). Mark is signaling that God is doing something new with the coming of Christ – a new era, a new covenant and a new people are beginning. The world was stuck in its old, sinful and destructive patterns and God has decided to do something new. This new beginning will have no and. Those who accept Jesus in the new age he introduces will finally have the power to break through the dead ends in their lives. Old habits and debilitating ways don’t have to continue limiting us. Jesus Christ has begun something new for us and he will "baptize you with the Holy Spirit," so that we will always have the new life his coming has begun.

Mark begins by announcing: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. There are no limits on the good news that Jesus comes to proclaim by his words and actions. We will continue to move through Mark’s gospel each Sunday in the new liturgical year that we have begun this Advent. We hear John, the forerunner, announce the coming of the one we have been waiting for. Since John is a most reputable witness, we respond to his announcement by preparing ourselves.

John calls for repentance; which isn’t just about this or that sin we have committed. Repentance involves total change. We must change our ways of thinking and redirect our lives. He invites us to confess our sins. But that doesn’t earn God’s coming into our lives, instead repentance heightens our awareness, and sharpens our perception of what is about to happen. John assures us that Christ is coming to begin something new in us and repentance clears the clutter so we are free to receive him when he does come.

John prepared the people for Christ by baptizing them in the Jordan. But we have already been baptized. What can we do as we prepare for a new "beginning" in Christ? We can renew our baptismal faith: we recommit ourselves during these early days of Advent to being more attentive to God’s Word and to receiving the Eucharist, which graces us and enables us to, "Prepare the way of the Lord make straight his paths."

Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP