By Fr Dumisani Vilakati
First Reading : Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm : Psalm 85
Second Reading : 2 Peter 3:8-14
Gospel : Mark 1:1-8
This Sunday the readings invite us to embark on a spiritual preparation for the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, announces the liberation of the people of God from slavery in Babylon. As such, they now have to prepare themselves for the long journey home, from Babylon (present day Iraq) to the Promised Land, in Judaea. Thus, the way home has to be levelled and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. In this second Sunday of Advent, we have to ask ourselves as to whether we have started on a real preparation for Christmas. This we can do by getting rid of all material hindrances so as to be able to see the glory of God.
The psalm expresses a sure hope for a people who are seemingly without peace. The psalmist sings of the Lord who proclaims peace to his people. Further to this, is a romantic feel of what is about to happen, with kindness and truth coming together as well as justice and peace engaging in an intimate embrace accompanied by kissing. Of course, this will have been preceded by glory dwelling in the land. This is the glory of God, his salvation for the people who hold him in awe. All that we ask of God is that we be enabled to see his mercy and that he may grant us his salvation.
The second reading, from 2 Peter, gives more emphasis on the coming of the Lord and the need to prepare for it. The delay of the Lords coming, as the letter indicates, is simply to give us a chance to mend our ways. Advent is indeed a season to mend our ways. God is patient with us even though we dare not take his patience for granted. What is required of us is righteousness as we wait to be ushered into a new heaven and a new earth, i.e. an encounter with the infant born king.
The gospel completes the matter of preparation as it recalls matters already mentioned in the first reading. Obviously, this time we are not speaking of the return of a people from the slavery in Babylon but the imminent arrival of Jesus and the manifestation of his glory. I like the fact that the meaning of the name John, from the Hebrew Yohanan, is “The Lord is gracious”. As such, the ministry of John reminds us of the graciousness of the Lord which is about to be revealed as he prepares the people for the arrival of Jesus. Moreover, John is presented here as an angel1, thus underlining the fact that he has been sent by God as well as standing in the same league as great personalities like the angel Gabriel.
Among the ways mentioned by John for a proper preparation for the arrival of Jesus is the necessity of confessing one’s sins. This certainly emphasises the need for a proper and thorough spiritual preparation for Christmas. The very experience of having one’s sins forgiven is a manifestation of the graciousness of the Lord on the penitent. No person can ever claim to have merited forgiveness. It is always God’s gratuitous gift upon his people. As such, once a penitent has been forgiven, there in his person dwells the glory of God. As St. Irenaeus said in the second century, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive”.
Another consideration from the gospel today is the response of the people from Jerusalem and indeed the whole of the Region of Judaea. We note that whereas Jerusalem would have been the centre of worship and indeed the political and economic hub, nevertheless it would seem that the people had become disillusioned with the city. It no longer offered comfort and healing. The experience of the wilderness, far away from Jerusalem, enables them to shed their old selves and embark on a proper spiritual journey.
John’s example is helpful in this regard. As he proclaims and prepares for the coming of the Lord, he is not dressed ostentatiously nor is he investing on the best food. Whilst this is a great example coming from one whom we have called the angel of God, nevertheless we notice that the focus is not on John nor is it on the Temple institution in Jerusalem. The focus is on Jesus as John says, “after me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit”. One of the greatest temptations of every age, especially for preachers, priests and other ministers is to point to themselves so that they may win praise from the congregation. The correct posture is to point to Jesus in the manner of John the Baptist.
The Collect (opening prayer at the mass), being directed to the Almighty and merciful God, implores that no earthly undertaking should hinder those who set out in haste to meet the Son of God. As Christians, we know that as Christmas approaches, there will indeed be many of these earthly undertakings which can impede our encounter with Christ. In Swaziland, Christmas tends to be associated with the heavy drinking of alcohol, intake of harmful drugs, overeating and indeed buying expensive clothes. How can we fail at this moment also to mention the associated violence, accidents and the many deaths and crime that come about because of an excessive intake of alcohol and drugs? This is a pagan way of preparing for Christmas. “May the Lord teach us to judge wisely the things of earth and hold firm to the things of heaven” (Prayer after communion of the Second Sunday of Advent).
1 The translation of the missal says messenger, but the literal translation should be angel.