Second Sunday of Advent, Cycle B
by Fr. Claude Perera, OMI

Theme: Preparation for the Second Coming of the Lord by a Three-fold Transformation


First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11
Preparing a way for the Lord

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 85:9-14
The Lord’s salvation is near.

Second Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-14
The Need to Be Ready foe the Second Coming of the Lord

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-8
John the Baptist’s Mission

Background on the Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel is at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s Gospel has no Infancy Narrative (unlike Matthew and Luke) and begins right away with the appearance of John the Baptist in the desert. On this the Second Sunday of Advent, we shall reflect on John the Baptist as the one who prepared the way for Jesus.

To refer to John the Baptist, Mark goes into Jewish prophetic tradition with an assortment of Old Testament prophecies of Malachi, Isaiah, and Exodus. In John Baptist’s preaching, he first quoted Malachi 3:1, “Look, I shall send my messenger to clear a way before me.” Malachi is predicting of a future figure. Mal 4:5 identifies this figure with “Elijah the prophet.” The New Testament shows how this prediction is fulfilled. Mark began his gospel identifying John the Baptist as this foretold messenger (Mk 1:2-4). Matthean Jesus did the same when he said, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Mt 11:13-14). Luke also affirmed the same (Lk 1:17; 7:27).

Mark’s description of John as a desert hermit wearing a garment of camel skin and a leather belt around the waist is reminiscent of Prophet Elijah the Tishbite (2 Kg 1:8). Prophet Zechariah 13:4 also refers to it. Eating locusts was the poor diet of the wilderness (Lv 11:22). In the ancient world, these were symbols of asceticism. Having embraced an ascetical lifestyle, he invited people for repentance the sign of which was baptism in the Jordan. Today’s first reading is the beginning of the second Book of Isaiah, also called Deutero-Isaiah (Is Chapters 40-55). It referred to John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. Deutero Isaiah began his book comforting his exilic people and then said, “3 A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the desert a way for Yahweh. Make a straight highway for our God across the wastelands.  4 Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be levelled, every cliff become a plateau, every escarpment a plain; 5 then the glory of Yahweh will be revealed, and all humanity will see it together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken”(Is 40:3-5). Isaiah is speaking of the great transformation that will take place at the end of time. It appears to be firstly a physical transformation. Deserts had by and large sandy caravan routes for camels. Highways in the deserts were rare.In Is 40:3, the two expressions ‘way of the Lord (’Deºrek ´ädönäy) and ‘a highway for our God’(müsillâ lë´löhêºnû) stand in parallelism. Similarly, In Is 35: there is a parallelism between a highway and a way of holiness where unclean and foolish should not set foot. There was already a royal highway from Memphis in Egypt via Nekhl, Aquaba, Trans-Jordania, Jerusalem and Tadmor to Resafa in Mesopotamia. But the section between Jerusalem to Tadmor had not been ready. Perhaps, the prophet was thinking initially of that. That would have been something ambitious. But he was most likely thinking in symbolic categories like ethical and spiritual. He wishes that the road becomes truly a way of the Lord. The way of the Lord is righteousness, justice, and peace. It will be the way to the land of peace in a war-stricken region. Messianic times will be characterized not only by a physical and ecological transformation, but essentially a moral and spiritual transformation in keeping with the very spirit of their God Yahweh. In such an approach there will not me any crookedness or bends. People have straight dealings both with God and one’s neighbour. 

John the Baptist heralded the messianic era. However, the Gospels may reflect the tension that seems to have existed between followers of John the Baptist and disciples of Jesus. Each of the four Evangelists reiterate that John the Baptist was not the Messiah. He was only the herald of the Messiah. Baptist’s baptism was only a baptism of repentance, while Jesus’ was the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We have received both the baptism of water as well as that of the Holy Spirit. Messiah has already come. But his mission is not yet complete. The eschatology has both already and not yet dimensions. Like John the Baptist, we too as baptized Christians are harbingers of the messianic age to come and particularly, in its fulness. Our baptismal vocation has made us agents of that transformation. Advent is an intense time of living that hope when we should deepen our preparation for the second coming of Jesus. In our Advent journey, John the Baptist is presented to us as a model. Like John the Baptist, we, too, are called upon to prepare the way for the second coming of the Lord. It is still a rugged way full of unethical impurities. As individual Catholics we prepare for the same with a good Advent confession. As a Church, we need to live an optimal life of witness promoting gospel values which will display by itself, drawing the whole humanity to Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Holy Advent! Saint Avènement! Santo Avvento! Feliz Advenimiento! Santo Avdento! Heiliger Advent! Heilige Komst! Szczęśliwego Nadejścia! Sretan Dolazak!