2nd Sunday of Advent Year B. Dec. 10, 2023
Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3: 8-14; Mark 1: 1-8
Theme: Make Straight the Way of God
Since last Sunday, we have started the new liturgical calendar year B. This liturgical year is the process of our entire life with God. Our relationship with God begins on Christmas, the day God has decided to take our flesh and come to live among us. This relationship will grow through the year, and it will reach its full completion when Jesus, King of the Universe (the last Sunday of the liturgical year), invites us to share with him the joy of God’s Kingdom. Since this meeting with our God on Christmas is so special, our Holy Mother Church asks us to prepare ourselves for it. This is the meaning of the four weeks of Advent. From its Latin origin Adventus, the word “Advent”, means “coming.” The liturgy of this four week-season of Advent prepares us, not only for the coming of Jesus into history over 2000 years ago whose anniversary we celebrate on Christmas, but it also prepares us for Jesus’ second coming in glory at the end of time as well as for the coming of Jesus in our daily lives. All these three comings of Jesus (at the end of the time, on Christmas, and every day) require good preparation. A good celebration of Christmas will depend on how we prepare ourselves during this Advent. The celebration in heaven will be certain if we prepare ourselves seriously for the return of Jesus at the end of time. And Jesus’s real presence amid the happenings of our daily lives depends on how we prepare ourselves every day to welcome him. Although Christmas gives us the image of a holiday with decorations and shopping, let us keep in mind that Advent is a special time of repentance. The purple color of the Advent liturgy reminds us of this repentance. The four candles of the Advent Wreath teach us that our repentance and waiting for Jesus’ coming should be with hope (first Sunday), peace (second Sunday), joy (third Sunday), and love (fourth Sunday). The Gospel of the first Sunday focused on Jesus’ second coming and invited us to stay watchful and alert as we still do not know when the time will come. In the second and third Sunday’s Gospels, we will hear John the Baptist who will call us to repentance as he prepares the way for the coming of Jesus. The story of how the birth of Jesus came about that we will hear in the last Sunday’s Gospel will prepare us to celebrate his birth on Christmas.
The Gospel that we heard is the first part of the prologue of the Gospel according to Mark which talks about the preparation for the public ministry of Jesus. This prologue (Mark 13: 1-13) commences with the title “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God] (v. 1, NABRE), followed by three events preparatory to Jesus’ preaching. The first event (this is our passage) is the appearance of John, the Baptist, who preached and baptized the people for the repentance of their sins to prepare them for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah (vv. 2-8). The second event tells how John baptized Jesus, the Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon him, and a voice came from the heavens acknowledging him to be the Son of God (vv. 9-11). And the third event is the story of the temptation of Jesus by Satan (vv. 12-13).
In our Gospel story, Mark commences by telling us that this passage is the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (v. 1, NRSVCE). Here Mark means that his Gospel is the “good news” of salvation in and through Jesus whose comings (on Christmas, at the end of time, and every day coming) we are waiting for, and we are preparing ourselves accordingly. It is “good news” because it gives us the information that we need to know to stay in good relationships with God. This “Good News” on which we will be mediating at Masses throughout this liturgical year B will make our relationships with God and our brothers and sisters grow and bear good fruits.
Then, Mark proceeds by reporting to us the preaching of John the Baptist in the Judean wilderness. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, John called his people including all of us today to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight (vv. 2-3). This is the same message that the prophet Isaiah preached to the people of Israel in his time as we heard it in our first reading. Why does our Holy Mother Church suggest we meditate on John and Isaiah’s preachings today? The answer is that the works that John the Baptist and Isaiah asked their contemporaries to do are exactly what we need to do in this Advent season as our preparation and repentance for the comings of our Lord.
John and Isaiah asked us to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths. The question that comes to my mind is: which way and paths the scripture readings are talking about? Is it the freeway I 10 East or West? Are they the avenues and streets in our neighborhoods that we need to decorate for the Christmas holiday? Not at all. The scripture readings talk about the spiritual ways, paths, and roads that facilitate Jesus to come to be born in our hearts and families. Sins damage these spiritual paths and transform them into bad roads, preventing Jesus from reaching our hearts and families. Prophet Isaiah, in our first reading, identified four types of bad roads and told us what kind of work to do to fix each of them. He said, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” (v. 4, NRSVCE).
Pride and greed, for instance, damage our spiritual road and transform it into a “valley road”. Lust and envy transform our spiritual paths into “mountains and hills”, preventing us from coming to Church to pray to God and serve him. Gluttony and wrath make our spiritual road become “uneven ground”. And sloth damages our relationships with God by making our spiritual lives become “rough places”. Those sins are the seven mortal or deadly sins that lead to further sins. By asking us to lift up every valley, make low every mountain and hill, level any uneven ground, and make the rough places become plain, our Holy Mother Church tries to ask us to confess all our sins and repent.
In our second reading, the author of the second Epistle of Peter tells us that God is patient with us, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3: 9). Note that here Peter exhorts his listeners regarding the delay of the return of Jesus and the fulfillment of his promise. He tells them and us that the delay of Jesus’ second coming is not a failure to accomplish his promise but rather a sign of his patience for the people to repent.
Peter then exhorts us to conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion (v. 11). This entails attending Masses, especially on Sundays, attending the Liturgical Weekly Bible study classes that I teach every Friday at 5: 00 p.m. Central time via Zoon and in-person, and participating in the 3-Day Advent Revival that I will preach in our Church on December 17th, 18th, and 19th. This is what the people of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem did as we heard in our Gospel. Mark reports that they were going to John the Baptist to hear his preaching about the baptism of repentance. It was the Word of God that John the Baptist preached to them that transformed their lives and made them acknowledge their sins and decide to repent (vv. 4-5). In the same way, the Word of God that we hear at Masses, that we study and meditate on in our Liturgical Weekly Bible Study classes every Friday, and that we will hear in our 3-day Advent Revival are the resources for our spiritual transformation which will lead us to acknowledge our sins and repent.
While we are waiting for the tree comings of our Lord, our second reading calls us to strive to be found by Jesus at peace, without spot or blemish” (v. 14). This is the meaning of the second Advent candle that we light today. It is the candle of peace, reminding us that the work of penance must be done peacefully. Let us seize this opportunity and fix now all the “damaged roads” of our relationships with God and our brothers and sisters because, as Peter says, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (v. 10).
May the liturgy of this Second Sunday of Advent enable us to acknowledge our sins and repent. Amen.
Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD