PREPARE A WAY FOR THE LORD
(Isa 40: 1-5.9-11; Ps 84, 9-14; 2Pt 3: 8-14; Mk 1: 1-8)
Today in a special way the Church calls us to reflect on the good news that this season brings – that Christ is coming. The message of advent can never change or be changed: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. This very preparation can bring us closer to God, especially if we go about it seriously. All the readings today speak to real life-situations: for the Jews in captivity in Babylon; for the early Christian community which was longing for the second coming of Christ and being threatened by persecution for their faith; for the people of Jesus’ time who did not yet know him and were listening to his precursor John the Baptizer.
The First Reading comes from the beginning of the section of the Book of Isaiah attributed to the great prophet of Israel’s return from Exile in Babylon. This ‘Second Isaiah’ sees the return from Exile as a ‘New Exodus’. The prophet’s role is to ‘tell the good news’ of Israel’s coming liberation and to describe the wonders that will attend the return of the captives across the desert to their land. Because they are God’s liberated people and because God will be at their head, leading them home like a shepherd, nature will transform itself to ease their path. A ‘way’ is being prepared, not just for Israel, but for God, whose ‘glory’ will be made manifest to all humankind.
Like Isaiah, we too must progress in our journey this Advent. Isaiah’s prophecy today is for all of us a great hope raiser that our salvation is close at hand as we continue to wait and prepare for the Lord’s coming. We may not be in exile as the Jews were in Babylon, and we surely are not persecuted as the first Christians were. But which of us does not have worries and concerns, either personal or collective. We have to think of others. What must be the pain, the worry, the distress of so many people whose hopes are gradually being crushed by the rising prices of commodities, inflation, joblessness, insecurity – to say nothing of their family trials and anxieties! People need help, they need hope, they need comfort and rescue at so many levels of life.
However, it is not yet over as the fulfillment of this hope still lies in the future, though not too far away from us. So, rather than relaxing, we must heed his call, “prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord…”
In the second reading, Peter assures us that Christ will certainly come. Once again, like the Prophet Isaiah, he gives a boost to our hope. He encourages us not to lose hope in the prophetic promises about the coming of Christ irrespective of our human reckoning of time which is quite different from God’s. Peter wrote at a time when some people were at the verge of losing their hope in the promise of Christ’s second coming due to the teachings of some false prophets and mockers. Like Paul, Peter believes that Christ will come again soon, when least expected, and therefore all should be prepared.
Advent is always a new beginning, a time of preparation. The Gospel reading of today presents us with the picture of John proclaiming the need for all to repent and be baptized so as to be ready to receive the messiah. For Mark – and for the early Christian tradition generally – the appearance and proclamation of John follows the ‘script’ indicated by the passage of Isaiah in the first reading of today. There is a slight difference in that, whereas Isaiah had a voice crying, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord’, in Mark ‘the voice’ (John) cries out in the wilderness: that is, the wilderness is the location, rather than the object, of the cry. Nonetheless, John’s appearance and his voice indicate the fulfillment of what Isaiah had foretold: the ‘good news’ of the coming of the Lord, for whom “a way” has to be prepared.
‘The Lord’ is, of course, Jesus himself, Messiah and Son of God and the “way” that has to be prepared for him is no longer a path through the desert but a way constructed in human hearts. The “way” is the conversion from sin called for in John’s message, enacted in the water of baptism that he celebrates for the crowds.
John the Baptist makes an explicit call for repentance for the forgiveness of sins. What is there to repent from? They include, those moments we have denied God through our words and actions, those moments we have failed ourselves and our neighbours, those times we have neglected the good we ought to do, those times we have gossiped and castigated others, those times we have not been true to our selves, God, our neighbours and our country, and those times we have failed to live saintly and holy lives. Advent is the time to say, God we are sorry, forgive us for we have sinned! This is a very important condition for us to welcome Christ worthily, and this is what the prophets Isaiah, John the Baptist, and the Apostles Peter mean respectively by, “preparing a way for the Lord” and “living holy and saintly lives.”
Our preparation is essentially an opening of our inner being to God’s comforting and healing presence so that the Holy Spirit can transform and make a new creation of us. Repentance begins with recognizing our need for change and renewal, with dissatisfaction with who and what we are, and with the progress we have made in following Christ. The recognition of our unsatisfactory spiritual condition is basic to desire, and desire is what Advent preparation is all about.
The ‘good tidings’ of ‘home-coming’ (from Exile) that Deutero-Isaiah proclaimed concerning Israel has become the ‘Gospel’ of humanity’s return to its true home within the ‘family’ of God. Each Advent invites us to revisit a longing for that ‘home-coming’ existing in the depths of our souls.
Peace be with you!
Fr Dumlesi Tor