Commentary on Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8
WE CONTINUE OUR PREPARATIONS for the coming of Jesus. That is, we are preparing to celebrate his coming among us as a new-born baby in Bethlehem. Therefore, it is a special time for us to remember with deep gratitude God’s great love for us. “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son…” “And the Word was made flesh, [i.e. took on our weak and fragile human nature] and came to live among us.”
Today’s Gospel tells us to prepare for that coming, that remembering, that celebrating. It does so by speaking about John the Baptist preparing people to welcome the coming of Jesus as he begins his public life, his mission.
John the Baptist
John had already becoming a famous person in his own right. That is clear from the number of people who came out to see him and that he attracted the attention of King Herod and of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. He led a very austere life in the desert, dressed in rough clothes made of camel skin. No designer clothes for him. He fed on locusts and wild honey and fasted as well (the Gospel tells us this in contrast to Jesus). No Marks & Spencer Food Halls for him.
John was clearly a man of God and the people admired and trusted him as a person of holiness and integrity. He taught them, bluntly made them aware of their sinfulness and called on them to “Repent”. “Repent” here does not mean just being sorry for the past. It is a call for them to do much more than that, to change their ways. To “repent” in the Gospel involves a radical transformation in our way of living. It means a conversion, a real turning around, a re-directing of one’s whole life.
Two things to remember
There are two things we can learn here which are relevant to our Christmas preparation:
a. We ourselves need to prepare for the coming of Jesus. And not just by a pre-Christmas confession to tidy ourselves up and get rid of some of the things we regret having done in recent months.
Peter, in today’s 2nd Reading, tells us that a “day” with the Lord can be a 1,000 years. This is probably directed at those who thought (and perhaps feared) that the Lord was coming soon. “The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises [to come again], as anybody else might be called slow; but he is being patient with you all, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody be brought to change their ways.” In other words, if the end of the world seems so slow in coming, it is to give people time to mend their ways, to redirect their lives.
At the same time, he also warns that the coming can be very sudden, as we all know is very true. We all know people who have been taken away from us very suddenly, without warning.
“Since everything is coming to an end like this, you should be living holy and saintly lives while you wait and long for the Day of God to come… So then, my friends, while you are waiting, do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace.”
Notice he prays “that he will find you at peace”. The coming of the Lord does not fill his friends with fear and anxiety but rather with a kind of joyful anticipation of one friend to another. The fruit of every day living the Way of Jesus is a real interior peace that makes us ready to meet him at any time.
Let us reflect then at this time on what changes we should make in our own lives, not just now but in the year that is to come. What kind of person would I like to be? What kind of person should I be? What kind of person could I be? What kind of person do I think God would like me to be?
b. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus to come into our lives. The First Reading speaks about filling in valleys, smoothing out mountains and hills, transforming cliffs into plains, and ridges into valleys. In other words, removing all the obstacles that get in the way of our meeting with Jesus. Then “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it”.
That is also our role as Christians. It is only through what we say and do that others can come to know Jesus. So many people we know face many obstacles in getting to know the real Jesus
(and, to be honest, sometimes we ourselves are those obstacles).
Why do so many young people stop going to church and give up the practice of their faith? Where did they get the ideas of Christianity which they have – or don’t have? Who is responsible? I don’t think we have to look very far. It is a fact that the negligence of Christians undermines faith in Christ far more effectively than the most savage persecution of the sworn enemies of Christ. The Church never thrives so vigorously as under persecution from outsiders. It is the betrayal of those who are inside which does the real damage.
Telling the good news
“Go up on a high mountain, joyful messenger to Zion.
Shout with a loud voice, joyful messenger to Jerusalem,”
says Isaiah in the First Reading today.
“Shout without fear,
say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God’.”
Yes, that is what each of us should be doing – perhaps beginning with members of our own families! Tell people about Him who “is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms”. Each of us can reach people that no one else can reach – our family members, relatives, work colleagues and other people who may come into our life.
So, there are two wonderful ways to prepare for Christmas:
- Personal conversion.
- What better present could I give myself?
- Leading someone else to know and experience the love of Jesus.
- What better present could I give to another person?