Second Sunday of Advent (Cycle B)


What will happen to you and me after we encounter
God in Bethlehem’s Child once again this year?

 

 Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

 

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

Comfort, give comfort to My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; The rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God, Who rules by His strong arm; here is His reward with Him, His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd He feeds His flock; in His arms He gathers the lambs, carrying them in His bosom, and leading the ewes with care.

 

2Peter 3:8-14

This point must not be overlooked, dear friends. In the Lord's eyes, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years are as a day. The Lord does not delay in keeping His promise -- though some consider it "delay". Rather, He shows you generous patience, since He wants none to perish, but all to come to repentance. The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and on that day the heavens will vanish with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and all its deeds will be made manifest. Since everything is to be destroyed in this way, what sort of men must you not be! How holy in your conduct and devotion, looking for the coming of the day of God and trying to hasten it! Because of it, the heavens will be destroyed in flames and the elements will melt away in a blaze. What we await are new heavens and a new earth where, according to His promise, the justice of God will reside. So, beloved, while waiting for this, make every effort to be found without stain or defilement, and at peace in His sight.

 

Mark 1:1-8

Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In Isaiah the prophet, it is written: "I send My messenger before You to prepare Your way: a herald's voice in the desert, crying, 'Make ready the way of the Lord, clear Him a straight path.' " Thus it was that John the Baptizer appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance which led to the forgiveness of sins. All the Judean countryside and the people of Jerusalem went out to him in great numbers. They were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. John was clothed in camel's hair, and wore a leather belt around his waist. His food was grasshoppers and wild honey. The theme of his preaching was: "One more powerful than I is to come after me. I am not fit to stoop and untie His sandal straps. I have baptized you in water; He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit".

 

Second Sunday of Advent (Cycle B)

by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.

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The biggest single factor that divides us from our Jewish brothers and sisters unites us at the same time. Jews, as we know, are looking for the promised Messiah -- God’s Anointed Who is to come. They reject the notion that Christ Jesus is the Promised One, the Messiah. We, however, accept Him, and thus we are separated out from the Jews.

But at the same time we look for the Messiah to come again and therein to fully establish God’s Kingdom here on earth – as do the Jews. Thus the One Who divides us like a two-edged sword is at the time (namely the End Time) the One Who unites us in shared hope and expectancy. Together with the Jews we live in hope that God will reward the righteous, punish the unjust, and fully establish His Kingdom of peace, truth, justice and complete goodness here on earth as it is in Heaven.

As Christians we live in the “in-between” time – in the time of the “already but not yet”. God’s kingdom has been established in Jesus Christ, but it has not yet been brought into its fullness, into its completion. Jesus Christ has saved us by establishing us in His very own life, but we can nevertheless lose it. For God wants us to come to Him in faith and in love, both of which necessitate our free choice, our freely chosen response.

Like Adam and Eve, we have been given freedom of choice. To claim that Catholics are against freedom of choice is to claim something that’s absurd. We do not deny freedom of choice – we affirm it! The question is not whether or not we are free to choose, the question is rather about what we choose with our freedom. Are we free to own slaves? Are we free to smoke wherever we want to? Are we free to practice polygamy? No! Americans do not have absolute freedom to choose whatever they may wish to choose.

God has offered Himself to us. Now He awaits our response. God has initiated the dialogue; God has offered us His love and His life in Jesus Christ. God has come to us. History records our responses.

Today’s gospel passage begins with these words: “Here begins the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. As with all beginnings, an end is implied. It could be near; it could be distant. But however soon or far removed, an ending is certain. What is to be noted in this instance is that Saint Mark ends his Gospel account quite abruptly. He reports three post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, and then ends his gospel with Christ’s great commission to go out to all the nations while baptizing and proclaiming the good news. That’s it in all its simplicity.

Evidently Mark wants us to understand that each one of us must add his or her own story to his Gospel. Your faith responses to Christ and my faith response constitute our own gospel accounts. There is nothing closed or private about this event because it is an on-going event -- as well as a spreading event. The One Who has come is to come again, and during the in-between time we have a share in the final outcome, a share that is constituted by our sharing with others what God has given us.

There are those who insist that our religious response to God must be private and personal. Yet clearly and emphatically Christ wants us to be communal and public. This is perhaps why the Catholic Church is so troublesome to so many. It is very communal and quite public. The word “our” predominates in Catholicism. We speak of “ourChurch, our Faith and our sacraments… not my Faith, my Church and my Sacraments. Our central prayer begins with the word “Our”. We share a common union, a holistic and holy communion. We have a family of faith. Ours is a “ we and Jesus” religion, not a “me and Jesus” religion.

We are witnesses to our faith. We devote enormous resources and energy to missionary activity. Evangelization is constantly on our minds. We are told to engage others in the public square, to promote our values, to vote our values, and to inject Christ’s vision into our culture. Engaging the surrounding culture is something we are urged to do. Ours is not a Church that is inside a castle, ours is a Church out on a pilgrimage. It’s out and about -- moving, dynamic, engaging, and caring. Care-giving institutions are found wherever our Church is found. Indeed, a good part of our missionary efforts center on care-giving institutions.

All of this, however, is built upon one indispensable element, namely holiness of life. Without holiness in the way we live we are little more than just another social service agency, a sort of International Red Cross with holy water sprinkled upon it. This is not to demean the International Red Cross – it is a wonderful agency. But that’s just what it is, an agency. The Church is established by God to be something more. It is called to be the very presence of Christ through its members. It is seen by God to be the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.

Like Saint John the Baptist, our lives point to an Other; our efforts are to bring other people to the One among us Who was sent by God to restore us into a holistic, holy relationship with our Father in Heaven.

Saint Mark’s entire gospel is simply and profoundly a beginning. So is Christmas. They imply and point us toward an end, a purpose, a finality. Advent, therefore, helps us each year to re-focus, to re-orient ourselves. At that time of the year when there is more darkness than daylight, as well as in those emotional and spiritual times when we live in darkness and are perhaps unsettled by gloom, a bright and penetrating light shines in the heavens in order that we might re-direct ourselves. The powerful symbol of the Star of Bethlehem and the journey of worldly and wise kings resonate deep within us. For we see our stories and ourselves in their stories.

What happened to those great and worldly kings after they journeyed to Bethlehem? We don’t know. But what will happen to you and me after we encounter God in Bethlehem’s Child once again this year? If we don’t know, we should start considering our response to God’s offer right now.

 

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