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Doctrines & Morals

Prepare a way

2nd Sunday Advent B


Prepare the way of the Lord


My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we begin today the second week in our preparation for the coming of the Lord. Every second Sunday of advent calls us to reflect on, how best to prepare for his coming. Today offers the same opportunity as we reflect on John’s message and baptism of repentance.


First Reading (Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-12)

In the year 587 BC, the city of Jerusalem was totally destroyed by the soldiers of King Nebuchadnezzar and its inhabitants taken into exile in the land of Babylon. Many years into the exile, a prophetic message from Isaiah brings new hope. He was careful to choose terms and symbols relating to the first exodus from the land of Egypt. He relates to past events but recreates it for a future liberation.


“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her, that her warfare is ended…” Is this not a reassurance from God concerning our own future as a nation?  The action of redemption from oppressive politicians who are more determined to stay in power than free the people from hunger and poverty.


The second part of the reading tells us about the preparations for liberation. “A voice cries out in the desert, prepare a way for the Lord.” Isaiah reminds the people that there will be another exodus, just like the first one from Egypt was through the desert, this one will also be through the desert. The immediate fulfilment of this prophesy happened when Persia conquered Babylon and Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. Yet there is more to come in Jesus, the one who will liberate the people from the bondage of sin, and whose coming will be prepared by John the Baptist.


Second Reading (2 Peter 3: 8-14)

The early Christians at first were under the impression that the Lord was going to return immediately, so they were doing everything in haste. Soon they discovered that things were not as they had thought and so some of them relaxed while others questioned the lateness in coming. Peter had to write then to affirm faith in the return of Jesus. He assured them that what we are waiting for is the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells. What that means is that, every follower of Christ must be found without blemish, they must remain zealous.


Gospel (Mark 1: 1-8)

The beginning of the Gospel of Mark presents the fulfilment of the prophesy of Isaiah, “Behold I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way…” He devoted his opening work to the preparation for Christ’s public ministry with John the Baptist playing a key role. In it the baptist appears in the wilderness. He was dressed simply in animal skin and his food was—locust and wild honey — Elijah has returned in John the Baptist, to introduce the messiah. He lived in the desert as a reminder of the people’s desert experience. He was therefore inviting everybody to once again join him in the exodus experience. It was to be the beginning of a return to God.


Today we hear once again the impatient voice of John the Baptist urging us to change our way. Crooked ways must be made straight; bad habits need to be corrected; conversion is a must. John gives a recipe for the preparation—“A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” His message is very clear, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down to untie.” 


There are two traditions before John in which baptism took place. One was in the Qumran community to which John himself may have been associated. It was a ritual bathing by which people cleanse themselves of spiritual impurity. In the other tradition is the proselyte baptism of Gentile converts to Judaism—an initiation formulae that included an acceptance of three things: circumcision as the mark of the covenant people; the offer of a sacrifice of atonement; and to undergo baptism by immersion in water to signify the cleansing from all pollution. Demanding baptism of Jews is a recognition that even the chosen people of God needed true repentance and renewal of life as they wait for the Messiah.


Repentance as preached by John is not just the feeling of guilt, it is a complete turn-around—in Greek, Metanoia—a change of direction, an acceptance that one has been journeying in the wrong direction. This must be difficult for many to accept, particularly those who prided themselves as righteous. The same reason why John was surprised to see some Pharisees coming to the Jordan for Baptism.


John’s message calls us to a change of life. An acceptance of the fact that we have not lived truly as God’s chosen people, a willingness to make straight the path on which we journey with God, and a humble acceptance of our guilt leading to a confession of faith in God who alone truly forgives those who are repentant.


John demands a break with a past of sinful human control to make room for a future where God's will is honoured and obeyed. This will not be easy. And so John uses very strong language to scold those who are not interested in changes that go deeper than appearances. True conversion and true readiness for the coming of Jesus requires a conversion that touches our hearts and our deepest values.


John also told the people that his baptism is only a preparation for the revelation of the Messiah who, “will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.” He baptised with water for the purpose of repentance but the baptism of Jesus is the one that opens us to the life in the Spirit—a life that is eternal.


Today is the time to prepare for the re-birth of the Saviour in our hearts and homes. We must radiate and recreate that joy the angels, shepherds, Maggi, Mary and Joseph experienced at the birth of Jesus and every Christian experiences on discovering the mystery of belonging to Jesus. We must bring about real love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and generous giving in creating a new world and a better world.


In our own lives there are mountains to be levelled and valleys to be filled. Mountains of hatred and animosity, valleys of sin and distrust, new roads will need to be constructed to bring together the estranged, to link parents and their children who have been separated by differences. These are the mountains that must be levelled and the valleys that must be filled as the Lord comes again in our celebration of Christmas.


Let us pray: Lord give us the grace to prepare well for your coming and so become an acceptable dwelling for you. Amen. May the Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen! 


Have a blessed week.

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