Reflection on Sundays in Advent, Year B
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
“Prepare a way for the Lord.
Make his paths straight.” Mark 1:3
Mark 1: 1-8
The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels. Reading Mark’s first words, you can sense his excitement. There is a great urgency about the text. At the time when Mark was writing his Gospel, the story seemed to be over –everything seemed to be falling apart; there was wide persecution of Christians, leading many to conclude that the end time was imminent. Following in the footsteps of the prophet Isaiah (first Reading for today’s liturgy), John the Baptist appears in the wilderness and tells us that it is time to begin to live the message. What would it be like today – surrounded as we are with so much violence, warfare, natural disasters, etc. – if somebody, like Mark, stepped forward and said, “It’s only the beginning?”
The two opening words of Marks’ Gospel – The Beginning – are a reminder of what happened to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus: they returned to Jerusalem to be re-connected with the other disciples and to begin again. They began to make sense of the events which had occurred. There are little stirrings all around us too, awakening us to God’s presence – e.g. young people stepping forward to claim their inheritance. There are moments of self-realisation in all our lives – moments when we ‘come home to ourselves’ to resurrect what lies hidden.
Whenever Israel fell away the prophets proclaimed a return to the wilderness as the place where Israel could regain her youthful fidelity. In the Gospel text for today, John the Baptist calls on the Jews to repent of their past, to confess their sins and be baptised. Repentance and forgiveness of sin are closely related. Forgiveness of sins, a divine gift, comes about through a change of heart, made possible and guaranteed by God. Unlike the former prophets, John addresses himself, not to the people as a whole, but to individuals.
“John wore a garment of camel-skin,” the characteristic garb of Elijah. This is the first of a long series of references to clothing, running all through Mark’s gospel, and right up to the end. In the biblical world and in the Third World today, clothing can express a person’s identity. Shakespeare, too, in the play ‘Hamlet’ wrote, “The apparel oft proclaims the man.” Clothing can be as important as a person’s name. We read at the end of Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, that “a certain young man (Mark) was following Jesus, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.” He abandoned his commitment to Jesus.
John dressed much like the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8) in order to distinguish himself from the religious leaders whose flowing robes reflected their great pride in their position.
When you experience the excitement of a big event, you naturally want to tell someone. Telling the story can bring back that original thrill as you relive the experience. Reading Mark’s first words, you can sense his excitement. Picture yourself in the crowd as Jesus heals and teaches. Imagine yourself as one of the disciples. Respond to his words of love and encouragement. And remember that Jesus came for us who live today as well as for those who lived over 2,000 years ago.
Mark was not one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, but he probably knew Jesus personally. He wrote his Gospel in the form of a fast-paced story, like a popular novel. The book portrays Jesus as a man who backed up his words with actions that constantly proved who he is – the Son of God. Because Mark wrote the Gospel for Christians in Rome, where many ‘gods’ were worshipped he wanted his readers to know that Jesus is the one true Son of God.
The prophet Isaiah had predicted that John the Baptist and Jesus would come. How did he know? God promised Isaiah that a Redeemer would come to Israel and that a messenger calling in the desert would prepare the way for him. Isaiah’s words comforted many people as they looked forward to the Messiah and, knowing that God keeps his promises, can comfort us too. As we read the Gospel of Mark, we come to realise that it is more than just a story: it is part of God’s word. In it God is revealing to us his plans for human history.
What John began, Jesus finished. What John proposed/prepared Jesus fulfilled.
Although Jesus did not need forgiveness he was baptised for the following reasons: (1) to begin his mission to bring salvation to all people, (2) to show support for John’s ministry, (3) to identify with our humanness and sin (4) and to give us an example to follow.
Although John was the first genuine prophet, Jesus the Messiah would be infinitely greater than he. John was pointing out how insignificant he was compared to the one who was coming. He was not even worthy of doing the most menial tasks for him, like untying his sandals. John said that Jesus would baptise them with the Holy Spirit – sending the Holy Spirit to live with each believer. His baptism with water prepared a person to receive Christ’s message. This Baptism demonstrated repentance, humility and willingness to turn from sin. This was the beginning of the spiritual process. When Jesus baptises with the Holy Spirit, the entire person is transformed by the Spirit’s power. Jesus offers to us both forgiveness of sin and the power to live for him.
POINTS FOR GROUP REFLECTION AND SHARING
- Is change needed in our life before we can hear and understand Jesus’ message?
- Who are the people in our community/ country today who inspire us with confidence?
- How important is example for young people?
- Do you think young people consider the way of life of adults relevant for promoting the Gospel?
- May we be filled with confidence at the wonders of our God as we prepare a way for the Lord! Lord, hear us.
- May we be people of hope; and may we so forgive and accept one another that God may be glorified and Jesus proclaimed in our lives. Lord, hear us.
- May we resolve in this time of Advent to be guided by Gospel values and to live the way of Jesus. Lord, hear us.
- As we prepare for Christmas, may we take to heart the preaching of John the Baptist, examining ourselves in the light of his teaching to learn what is of Gospel values and to live the way of Jesus. Lord, hear us.