Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.
A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made plain; the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by His strong arm; here is His reward with Him, His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd He feeds His flock; in His arms He gathers the lambs, carrying them in His bosom, and leading the ewes with care.(P) The word of the Lord.
I will hear what God proclaims; the Lord - for He proclaims peace to His people. Near indeed is His salvation to those who fear Him, glory dwelling in our land. (R)
Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the Earth, and justice shall look down from heaven. (R)
The Lord Himself will give His benefits; our land shall yield its increase. Justice shall walk before Him, and prepare the way of His steps. (R)
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay His promise, as some regard "delay", but He is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the Earth and everything down on it will be found out.
Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of the God, because of which the heaven will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. But according to His promise we await new heavens and a new Earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before Him, at peace.(P) The word of the Lord.
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 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."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
As we began the first Sunday of Advent last week, we started the new liturgical year, "Year B". During this year, we will be looking mostly at the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as recounted by Mark. Advent is a time of preparation for Christ's three comings: The annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, His Second Coming at the end of time or on the Last Day and, in between these two, His coming into our daily lives, in the most ordinary days and circumstances. In view of this, our Church called our attention last week to the Second Coming of Christ. You may remember, John Mark, the writer of the gospel of Mark, recalled the words spoken by Jesus prior to His Passion and Death, about His return in power and glory in His Second Coming and warned us to be watchful as if looking out for the owner of a house to return, for we cannot nor will we ever know until it happens, Mark (13:33-37).
In today's gospel reading, we read of John's preaching on the coming of the Messiah, just as Isaiah had promised, Isaiah (40:3-5). It is worth noting here that the story about the coming of the promised Savior, the Messiah, did not begin with the announcement of John in the desert. Neither did it begin with Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. It rather had begun with the expectations of the prophets long ago. In fact, many Christians trace the most probable origin of this concept of the promise earlier on and well before the time of the prophets, to the time when the Lord declared this at the beginning of creation itself, right after the fall of Adam and Eve into sin.
God promised that He would send a Redeemer and Deliverer who would be their "seed" or "offspring", to destroy Satan and restore them both to a right relationship with Him, Genesis (3:15). However, it rose to prominence from the time of the prophet Isaiah, some seven hundred years before the time of Christ. Scholars estimate that there are more than 300 "Messianic prophecies" because they refer to the Messiah, which means "anointed one" or "chosen one," in the Old Testament, and 35 of them were given since the time of Isaiah. These prophecies were given so that people would recognize Jesus when He came, and they would have faith in Him as their Saviour.
Mark begins his gospel by referring to a prophecy from Isaiah about a messenger coming to prepare the way of the Messiah: "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", Mark (1:2-3). All four gospels assign the role of the messenger to John who would fulfil this prophetic voice. As the son of Elizabeth and Zachariah who were both from the Tribe of Levi, John could have been a priest like his father who served in the temple. Instead, he lived in the wilderness, wearing clothes like the Old Testament prophets with camel's hair, and eating locusts and wild honey whilst preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the river Jordan, Mark (1:6). Many people from Jerusalem, Judea, and regions around Jordan came to John, and confessed their sins as they received baptism.
It is clear that repentance was required of those who came to be baptized. John did not sprinkle water when he baptized. As was the custom in some Jewish ceremonial washings, those he baptized were wholly immersed. Baptism was already practiced in the Jewish community in John's day, but typically it was practiced only among Gentiles who wished to become Jews. Besides the message of repentance and baptism, John went on to proclaim a message of hope in pointing to the one who will come. He said, "One mightier than I, is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, Mark (1:7-8). John's task was only to prepare the way for the One who is mightier than him, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would baptize the people "with the Holy Spirit". He proclaimed that Jesus Christ will pour His Holy Spirit so abundantly upon the baptized, cleanse them from all their sins and fill them with holiness, love plus all other graces.
What is the message for us?
The preaching of John needs to be heard today as much as when he first proclaimed it. We need to confront and confess our sins as well as turn away from them in sincere repentance so as to receive God's forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ. Repentance is a part of the very "foundation" of the true Christian faith, Hebrews (6:1). Unless we come to terms with the experience of repentance, there is no possible way that God can give us the wholeness of life we want very much. Many people tend to view repentance as something negative because it is associated with one's faults, offences and sins. We do not have to think of it in this way.
The Greek word metanoia translates as "repent" which literally means "to change one's mind" and, by extension, to turn around, to express regret or transform one's heart, attitude and behavior. It is doing things in a new way that gives life both to oneself and others: a way that allows Christ to enter more deeply into our lives. To repent is to recognize that the old ways by which we have travelled have actually lead us nowhere and, therefore, to turn around to ask God for forgiveness and help as well as to start walking in the way that leads us to the light.
As we prepare to celebrate Christ's birth at Christmas and to welcome the coming of Christ's power in our daily lives and His Second Coming at the end of time, let us cast off all traces of rebelliousness, estrangement, self-centeredness, egoism plus pride and turn to God seeking forgiveness and reconciliation.
Some of us believe that we do not need forgiveness because we think that we have not sinned. We refuse to take a look at our lives and to be honest about ourselves. We refuse to let God's Word work in our lives. We are unwilling to do so because, when and if we do, we will then have to change from our previous, familiar ways. Let us pray today that we shall be ready and willing to change plus turn around our lives in order to experience the wonder and the joy of His coming in the midst of everyday events of our lives.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!