As we look into today’s readings we can hear the voice of God trying to connect with us.
In this Sunday’s first reading, from Isaiah, we hear God urging the prophet to console the people and to speak to their hearts so that they may know the joy of the presence of God. Isaiah announces that the place of preparation for this new awareness is primarily in the wilderness. For the Jews, the wilderness was both very real and full of symbolic meaning. Israel’s very history and identity had been forged out of its desert journey from slavery in Egypt. This foundation story would be deeply imprinted in the depths of their psyche. They knew all about the desert and the wilderness.
Isaiah reminds the Jewish people that the Lord is faithful to His promises, in particular, His promises to lead them to the land of Israel and to send the Messiah. The prophet speaks of the voice crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” and goes on to tell them to make straight a highway for God, for the glory of the Lord would be revealed. In essence, the prophet is telling the Jewish people to prepare a way for the Lord to work in their lives and in their hearts.
This message is equally important for us to hear during this Advent season, since, if we are to be true disciples of our Lord, we too must examine our lives and find the areas that we could make straight the way of the Lord, in the sense that we can improve our relationship with God and those around us. We can’t lose sight of the fact that we, like the Jewish people of those times, are pilgrims on a journey. While our journey may not be to a physical place like the Promised Land, we are pilgrims on the journey to the heavenly Jerusalem.
Turning our attention to our Gospel reading, there is a very strong parallel to be drawn between the message of the book of Isaiah and the message that we hear in the Gospel according to Mark. It begins with a voice crying out in the wilderness. We’re introduced to a man named John, who fulfils Isaiah’s ancient prophecy and calls for a change of heart and repentance. However, he does not stop there. Mark tells of John the Baptist, the precursor of Jesus, and his role in preparing the way for the Lord. John’s lifestyle and preaching inspired the people of his time to follow him and be baptized. There’s an almost unique attractiveness about John. The people come to listen to him and, subsequently, make changes in their lives. Why? Because he has integrity and humility and he speaks the truth. He reminds them of what they already know deep down in their heart of hearts. By speaking to their conscience, he announces the closeness of God to a people who were waiting for, but who had perhaps lost, the connection with (1) God, (2) themselves and (3) each other. John powerfully embodies the message he proclaims. But, while he was a powerful preacher and leader, he never lost sight of pointing people to The One who is greater than he, who would come after him and baptize them, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit.
In the story of John the Baptist, we see that the beginning of the Good News is the story of a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare a way for the Lord. That voice challenges us today. How do we respond to its call? There is nothing within us or outside of us that can stop God loving us. Reconnecting to this deep truth and acknowledging our divine origins means that we can embrace the message of the Baptist: that God is indeed close. If we are to be disciples of our Lord, we must not only be precursors like John the Baptist, just as he took and expanded on the message of the prophet Isaiah, we must also expand on his message and live as witnesses to the grace of Christ at work in our lives. By virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation, we have the obligation to make our faith in Christ known in our words and deeds, and so show other people the way to Him.
Unlike the time period in which John the Baptist lived and preached where the Jewish people were awaiting the coming of the Messiah, today our world does not seem to await anything at all; rather, it is blinded by the here and now. Yet, the beginning of this Advent season is precisely a time of waiting. Our focus is on awaiting the second coming of Our Lord, when he will come to judge the living and the dead.
During the last week of Advent, we will focus on the impending celebration of the first coming of our Lord at Christmas. But the fact that we do not know when Our Lord will come again should not lull us into complacency and make us inattentive to what we must do to prepare for His coming again in glory. For this reason, it’s good to recall the reminder from the Second Letter of Saint Peter in the second reading: “Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay,’ but he is patient with you.” Just as Our Lord is patient with us, we must patiently await His Second Coming at the time of His choosing. In the meantime, we are called to build up the community of faith and live patiently in harmony with one another.