Second Sunday of Advent – B
The Gospel for this Second Sunday of Advent is from Mark, chapter 1, verses 1-8. It is unusual because it doesn’t begin with Bethlehem, with angels and shepherds and wide-eyed cattle lowing over the manger of the Baby Jesus.
No, Mark’s Gospel begins in the desert with John the Baptist. John the Baptist is the last and the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. And he is a classic prophet.
The Gospel says that John the Baptist was dressed in camel’s hair with a belt around his waist. Why is this detail important? Classic prophet that he was, he was dressed just like Elijah the prophet, who lived eight hundred years before John the Baptist.
Christian art often portrays John the Baptist looking quite penitential, like he never had a shave or a haircut in his entire life. It presents him as downright skinny, probably because he dined on locusts and wild honey. On that kind of diet you really don’t put on the pounds!
People from all over came to him. He was not in a downtown area – like so many of the street preachers that we encounter. John located himself in “nowhere land” – out in the desert, out in the wilderness. What I find astonishing is that people went to him. They actually wanted to hear John the Baptist.
And what does John tell them? We heard him say in today’s Gospel: “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.”
And what are we all supposed to be doing? John makes his own the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight His paths.” John preached, encouraging people to repent of their sins.
Now, the message of John the Baptist is as relevant for us two thousand years later as it was for those early folks. We all know where the desert is in our lives, where we can go to be quiet and hear God speak. But the problem is, so often we don’t want to go there. And why not? Because we don’t want to hear what God has to say to us.
We complain, don’t we: “Why is God so distant from me?” Well, if the truth be told, our question should really be: “Why do I keep my distance from God?
There was a woman who really didn’t like decorating for Christmas. One year she decided not to bother with it, but then she wondered what the neighbors and relatives might think. So she bought an everlasting Christmas tree, a permanent Christmas tree. You know what that means…a fake one!
She took her time to decorate it just so, and then she had a closet built in her living room, at the far end. When it came time for Christmas she simply opened the closet door, and when Christmas was over, she simply closed the closet door until the next Christmas.
John the Baptist would have had a hissy-fit with that! Why? Because she was treating Christmas as simply a re-run of Christmases gone by, as though everything about Christmas has all been said and done, and each year we just go through the motions – but never allow ourselves to be changed a bit by the coming of our Savior.
Sometimes we treat Christmas like a liturgical Williamsburg – a wonderful place to visit, but having very little permanent impact on our lives.
And so John the Baptist invites us today: “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight His paths.” Go into the desert in your life where it is quiet. Listen to the voice of the Lord this year. What is it He wants you to admit to? What is it He wants to enable you to change in your life this year by the power of His saving grace?
Celebrate the Sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation this Advent. I hear Confessions here year-round every Saturday morning from 11:00 until 12 Noon, and every Thursday evening after the 7:00 PM Mass until 8:30 PM. And this weekend and next, I will be available to hear Confessions after all of the Masses, except for the Saturday 4:00 PM Mass. And I’ll leave the light on for you!
John the Baptist’s words, quoting Isaiah the prophet, still ring true: “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight His paths.” This Advent, this very day, invite the Lord to come closer to you than you have ever let Him come before. Don’t be afraid.
And John the Baptist, the greatest of all the prophets, will offer you his smile of approval.