4 December 2011
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
2 Peter 3:8-14
A young woman in her mid twenties went regularly to visit her old aunt. Because the young woman was quiet by nature it was the aunt who did most of the talking. At their last meeting it was the young woman who did nearly all the talking. She spoke practically non-stop about a young man Marcus whom she had met some time before. They had been out together a number of times and the old aunt had no doubt that she had fallen in love with him since she could not speak of anything else.
The gospel of Mark, the opening verses of which compose today’s gospel are like that. Mark has been so captivated by the person of Jesus that he has only one aim – to get people to know and commit themselves to be disciples of Jesus.
John the Baptist has exactly the same vocation. We find him in the wilderness. What is he doing? He is proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Unless people are first convicted of sin they cannot know the need of a Saviour.
Repentance is not the same as penance. For most of us penance in religious terms is depriving ourselves of something in order to atone for our sins.
Repentance however is basically changing from looking at life in the ways I normally do to looking at it from God’s point of view, through the eyes of Jesus.
What then are the most important things for me in life? How would I prioritise my values? Do they correspond to God’s way of looking at things?
Since the emphasis in today’s gospel is on preparation, to prepare the way of the Lord we might want to start with ourselves. Do I need to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession this Advent?
John the Baptist is preparing the way for the coming of Jesus. He speaks of the One who is coming after him, the One who will baptise with the Holy Spirit. Like Mark John the Baptist’s role is to get the people to be ready for Jesus when he appears. John is a very humble man. He had many people going into the wilderness to see him and he could have been tempted to use this power for himself. But he is very clear about his mission. He is the one sent to announce and prepare the people for Jesus. Then he will get out of the way and leave the stage to Jesus.
Nearly all of us have had the experience of calling some office or institution. We ask the one who replies if we can talk to someone we name. She replies that she is now connecting us to that person, makes the connection and then gets out of the way. John the Baptist saw his role like that. He wanted simply to connect people to Jesus since in his humility he knew Jesus was the One the people needed.
The gospel today opens with the sentence ‘The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’. So this is saying that the Good News is a person, the person of Jesus. Is this true for me? Unfortunately many people fear God, whom they think wishes to punish us for our sins. This is truly disastrous and is contrary to the image of God presented by Jesus in the four Gospels. The first reading and the gospel today show this. How could we say Jesus was good news if he were out to punish us?
For the people of Isaiah’s time in the first reading, the prophet wrote his consoling words to the people of Israel when they were in Exile. They were convinced that their time in Exile was due to their abandoning God’s ways. They thought that God had forgotten them as a way of punishing them. Now the prophet is telling them the good news, the consoling words that God will bring them back from exile to their own land. What did they do to deserve this? In a word nothing. It was God’s love for them, his loving concern for them that caused this. So God’s act is not conditioned by human virtue or goodness. Our time of preparation at Advent for the Lord’s coming is not so that he will reward us. It is in fact our response of gratitude to him for his totally free, undeserved, unmerited gift of his love. Our preparation to turn back to God wherever this is necessary is our thank you to God. Preparation then is our response to a promise not a condition for its fulfillment.
The opening verse today ‘The beginning of the Good News’ is precisely that. It is a beginning.
What happens then?
Amazingly God is saying to each of you and me. “I sent my son Jesus to be the Way, the Truth and the Life. I wanted him to show you how totally and unconditionally I love you. That is why he spoke so often about my forgiveness. But I cannot forgive those who don’t want it. They have shut me out. So Jesus is the beginning of the good news. Will you help me to complete it by preparing, not only to celebrate his first coming at Christmas but also to prepare for his coming at the end of the world?
The way is simple but not always easy. It is by living according to my values: loving, forgiving, being compassionate, supporting each other especially in time of life’s difficulties, like bereavements, tragedies, loneliness, depression etc. I really need you to complete the work he began. Will you help?”
“Lord Jesus, give us your Holy Spirit to help us prepare well for your coming this Christmas and always”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA, African Missions, Cork