12.10.17 Sun. wk 2 – Advent – B
1st Reading Isaiah 40: 1 – 5, 9 – 11
2nd Letter of St. Peter 3: 8 – 14
Gospel – Mark 1: 1 – 8
Please refer to your own Bible for the Scripture readings.
Homily: Fr. Mike Murphy Preparing The Way Of The Lord
What is the role of John the Baptist? You might say it is right there in his title: “John the Baptist.” He came to baptize people, just as we Baptize people right here in our Sanctuary. When we baptize here in the Church, sins are washed away, this is not the result of the Baptism that John performed. If John’s Baptism took away sin, (pointing to the crucifix hanging on the wall behind the altar) then why did †Jesus have to die on the cross? So, John’s Baptism is not the same as the Baptism that we celebrate here in the Church. St. Mark tells us in the Gospel: “John appeared in the desert proclaiming a Baptism of Repentance.” (Mark 1:4)
The prophecy of Isaiah describes the mission of John this way. “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; He will prepare the way.” (Mark 1:2) The message of John was very similar to the Old Testament Prophets, to challenge the people to look at their lives. John called the people to repentance, to open their hearts and to prepare for †Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). John called them to put their faith in the Messiah, to receive God’s gift of mercy and forgiveness that would come through the death of †Jesus. That’s what his mission was all about.
Now, there was a similarity between what John was doing at the Jordan River and what the people were already experiencing at the Temple in Jerusalem. Before someone who came to offer a sacrifice in the Temple for their sin, they would first enter what is called a mikvah. It was a pool of water where they would wash, to become ritually clean before they could go into the Temple to offer their sacrifice for their sins. The mikvah was a preparation to enter into the Temple. The Baptism of John was preparing people for God’s “Living Temple”, †Jesus. Recall the words of †Jesus: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up….He was speaking about the Temple of His body.” (John 2:19, 21)
The Baptism of John was to prepare the people (not to enter the Jerusalem Temple) but… for the Living Temple of God to enter into them. The “Living Temple’ would give us His Body and Blood of in the Eucharist and He would pour His Spirit into us. So it is very different. It is not preparing others to enter the Temple in Jerusalem, but for God’s Holy Temple of †Jesus to enter into us. John was to awaken the people, to shake them from their complacency, to arouse them to faith, hope and love, so they could recognize and could receive the Christ, the Messiah when He came. John was calling the people to turn away from their sin, to take on a new way of life and to live according to God’s will and not their own.
John is one of the central figures we find throughout the Season of Advent, along with +Jesus and Mary. The message of John is the message of Advent – a message to us in 2017. We await the final coming of †Jesus and we must prepare ourselves. Advent is meant to awaken us, to shake us from our day-to-day complacency and spiritual stupor.
Do we ever take seriously the possibility that our life will end tonight? Have you thought about that? Are we prepared for the Lord to close the book on our earthly life before dawn tomorrow? Maybe we ought to think about that. Advent and the message of John the Baptist is to shake us into reality, to allow us to act in faith, hope and love, so we are ready when the Lord comes. (Not all of us will die from a long, lingering illness giving us plenty of time to prepare our soul.) As †Jesus reminded us in last week’s Gospel: “Watch, therefore, we do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.” (Mark 13:33)
John fulfilled his mission some 2,000 years ago by preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah. It is not only the task of one voice “crying out in the desert” 2,000 years ago. As the disciples of †Jesus, it is our mission, too – yours and mine. It is our turn: ‘To prepare the Way of the Lord’ in our hearts, and in the hearts of others.
How can we do that? First – we must prepare our hearts and we do this by spending time with the Lord in prayer. Most of our days are full. (You should see my i-phone calendar! It is nuts on some days.) It is a wonder I have anytime to sleep, I’m sure it is the same for you, with all that you have to do in your lives. So many of our days are scheduled from morning until night; but how often do we schedule quality time to be with the Lord? Prayer is usually the last thing we do when we go to bed. Even if we can stay awake for longer than 3 minutes, our prayer is brief – if at all. Oftentimes, the Lord gets the leftovers of our day. We spend more time preparing for our vacations, don’t we? Think about that. Did you ever think about how you are to prepare for that final trip, that last one? That’s the one we should be preparing for.
Spend time with the Scriptures, or praying the Rosary, possibly sitting quietly before the Blessed Sacrament. Spend time in prayer! The Lord wants to have a special encounter with us, and He asks to be greater than any other love in our life. Our love for †Jesus should be greater than any other love. And †Jesus can be the greatest source of comfort, even during the greatest moments of stress or strife in our life. Prayer is always time well spent. This is one way we prepare for the coming of the Lord during this Advent Season.
A second way to prepare for the Lord’s coming is – to prepare the way of the Lord for others. Let us focus not just on ourselves, but on other people, to help them prepare their way. John the Baptist prepared those around him – that they might be brought to faith, love and hope in †Jesus. And we must help others to prepare for that encounter with the Lord, through our word and our actions, just as John, through his words and actions, prepared many of those who later on, became disciples of †Jesus. John was preparing them. Some of the twelve apostles were actually prepared by John before they followed †Jesus. Our relationship with the Lord will bring comfort to others as we read in the Prophecy of Isaiah: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God…Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her…her guilt is expiated.” (Is.40:1F) We are to become: “The voice in the wilderness,” proclaiming God’s love and mercy to the world.”
Pope Francis tells us: “God the Father comforts, by raising up comforters, whom He asks to encourage the people, His children, by proclaiming that the tribulation has ended; affliction has ended and sin has been forgiven.” (Open Your Heart: Reflections for Advent; 2017; All Saints Press, p.10)
There are many mountains and valleys in life. We experience ups and downs in life. Our words of hope and comfort can create smooth paths in the lives of many people through hope and faith in His promises of eternal joy. Doing that, we can bring comfort to people and help them to follow †Jesus. We prepare for the Lord’s coming by speaking to families, friends, co-workers, and classmates about the true meaning of Christmas. You never know, how just a small gesture of kindness or a simple word of faith can open a heart to †Jesus. So, who is “the voice of one crying out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord?” (Mark 1:3) That voice is you! †Jesus was speaking of you when He said: “Amen I say to you, among those born of woman there has been none greater than John the Baptist. Yet, the least born in the Kingdom of Heaven, is greater than John.” (Matt.11:11)
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.