While we are busy shopping, decorating, and baking, the reading for the Second Sunday of Advent presents us with another approach to preparation for the celebration of Christmas. Mark’s gospel was the earliest one written, and it begins with Jesus as an adult. Mark 1:1-8 proclaims “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” There is no genealogy, no background information; it begins with the most powerful acknowledgment and introduction of Jesus.
John the Baptist was the messenger whom God sent to be a witness to the coming of Jesus, the Christ, the son of God. John was a humble preacher. He was the advance man to prepare people for the coming of Jesus.
Even in his own time, John appeared to be strange. Ordinary people did not wear garments of “camel hair with a leather belt around their waist.” Ordinary people did not subsist on locusts and wild honey. Yet he drew large crowds coming to see and hear him. Why? His passion and his authenticity was powerful. John lived what he preached and that would be very appealing to people who were living in chaotic times. The people of the time were seeking a connection with God, not in the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem but outside its city walls on the outskirts or edges of society.
They were coming for healing and hope as they waited for the Messiah to come.
Often John is found preaching in the wilderness. One would expect that the announcement of the arrival of such an important person as Jesus would take place in a religious center or major city. This setting is also symbolic. In the Old Testament, the wilderness is a place of preparation and repentance. Later Jesus, himself, goes into the desert for 40 days as a preparation for what is to come. In present times, people often seek peace and solitude in a natural setting at the cottage or in a forest to commune with nature. Such a setting creates an environment where God can be seen and heard more clearly. The retreat from the routine and hectic pace of life provides the opportunity to reflect, pray and be physically and spiritually renewed.
In preparation for the arrival of Jesus, John the Baptist preached a message of repentance. He was calling the people to turn from sin, and to turn to God for forgiveness. Sin is failing to live up to God’s law. Repentance requires a change of heart and mind and shows transformation.
Teshuva means returning to what is right and pure. It is returning to innocence. Aside from showing regret and remorse, it is returning to the original plan of God. To live with Him, consult with Him, fellowship with Him, and obey Him.
So, essentially, to repent means to recognize one’s own wrongdoing and – humbly denying oneself – to turn around and face the One that has been wronged. It is also committing to a new path. This return to the path of correction and truth leads to true freedom. This repentance makes room for Jesus to come into one’s life and journey together.
Before John, baptism was not a common practice, but he introduced it as a sign and symbol of repentance and forgiveness. According to Jewish law, purification, or becoming ritually clean, occurred through immersion in water. There were baths, especially designed for this purpose, all around the temple, for those who wish to enter it to cleanse themselves. John makes it very clear that he was only baptizing with water. He is preparing the way for someone who is far greater and who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. The river Jordan is a significant waterway, and for the purposes of baptism; it meets the Jewish purification precepts as it was living (moving) water.
Although John grew in influence and fame, he remained humble and never waivered in his mission. He did not proclaim himself, but Jesus, the One who was greater and who would bring a greater baptism – the baptism of the Holy Spirit – which can truly change hearts and grant forgiveness. Yet John served without any need for appreciation. His whole focus was on the Messiah.
One day Jesus Christ will come again! However, we don’t need to wait for His future arrival. Christ comes to us every day of our lives. Are we aware of His coming? Do we notice His presence as we go about our day? Do we look for Christ in the peripheries as Pope Francis suggested? The peripheries include the frail, the least in society and outcasts such as those struggling with poverty, homelessness, mental and physical illness.
Perhaps another Advent calendar/to-do list might be helpful. Some suggestions may include:
- Pray an additional 10 minutes a day.
- Listen to “Prepare the Way of the Lord” by the Michael W. Smith www.youtube.com/watch?v=R27fsQSIEEc
- Participate in the penitential services scheduled in your parish.
- Take some homemade baking to a person who is shut in.
- Donate extra food or money to the Foodbank.
- Phone someone who may be living alone/or lonely.
- Reflect on being loved unconditionally.
Today be attentive: Christ will come to you!
I know that on some days I “miss” Christ’s coming. Perhaps I am too busy or my mind or heart is closed. Today is a good day to consciously and deliberately look for Christ as we move through our day. Christ is among us! However, we must be awake and alert for his coming! We must be careful how we live. Our lives may be the only “Bible” some people will read.