Our first reading this morning from the prophet Isaiah is joyful and optimistic. It speaks of a future for Israel after exile in Babylon, and a return home. Through the prophet, God speaks words of comfort to His people. These are words we always need to hear, but especially during this time of lockdowns when many of us are exiled from our families and friends. We can be assured that God is working wonders and even though it might not feel currently like it. We can trust that all will be well in the end. The words of Isaiah are quoted in Mark’s Gospel because they look forward to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the fulfilment of all prophecy in the Bible: in Him the glory of the Lord is revealed.
Mark’s Gospel begins with the words:
The beginning of the Good News of Jesus the Messiah, Son of God (Mk 1:1)
Followed by quotations from Malachi and Isaiah:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)
Mark includes these texts this to show us that, from the beginning, prophecy is being fulfilled in Jesus. John is the messenger, preparing the community for the coming of the Messiah: Jesus, who is God.
First appearing in the wilderness, John proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He then chooses a point where the busy road from Jerusalem crosses the River Jordan and challenges all those he meets to change their ways. The Baptist calls people to repentance, to turn away from sin and to turn back to God. It is good to be reminded that God’s love and mercy are available to all of us, when we fall short of what God wants us to be. This is why the story of Jesus’ public ministry begins with His Baptism in the Jordan, and points to Golgotha, where Christ will die taking our sins, and those of all humanity upon Himself. Christ’s Death demonstrates God’s love for us and His mercy towards us. It is hard to comprehend how God could love us that much. And yet Christ gives us Himself in the Eucharist, so that His Body and Blood can transform us, so that we can share in His life on Earth and in Heaven.
John the Baptist is the last of the prophets and the voice crying in the wilderness of which the prophet Isaiah spoke. He has a challenging and uncompromising message: repent for the Kingdom of God is close at hand. It may not be what many people want to hear nowadays, but it is, however, what people need to hear. Those who flock to him are aware of their sin, and aware of their need of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. John the Baptist’s message may not be an easy one, but it is actually Good News. Our prayers are answered: that for which we hope, for which our soul deeply longs can be ours. Through our baptism, we share in Christ’s Death and Resurrection, and we are washed from sin and given the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is difficult to make a similar proclamation to John to today’s society, where the Church is increasingly marginalised. Yet our message must still be ‘Repent!’ because the world needs to repent, to turn away from sin and selfishness, and back to a God of love, who longs for us to have life in all its fullness.
Words can only go so far, they need to be lived out in action, and made concrete in people’s lives and communities. When we live out the love and reconciliation we have received from Jesus Christ, we are helping to make the Kingdom of God a reality. We are showing the world that there is an alternative to the path of greed and selfishness, anger and bitterness, which blights so many lives. The world can be freed from these shackles by Christ by who He is, and what He has done.
Advent is a penitential season, so we use the colour purple, which is dark and sombre. We do not say the Gloria (Glory be to God on high) because it is a song of celebration. We fast from it now so that we may celebrate with greater joy at Christmas. Advent is a season of repentance when we turn away from our sins, and turn back to the God who comes among us as a baby in Bethlehem and who will come as our Judge and Saviour.
This what repentance means: turning to God so that He can transform our life and the lives of those around us. It is both an event and a process, something we need to keep on doing, together. This is the life of faith which Christ calls us to live.So let us in this Advent season live together:
in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, (2Peter 3: 11-12)
Let us prepare to meet Christ filled with His love, so that we may join in the song of praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.