There are no surprises that John the Baptizer comes into focus in the readings this week. As we meditate on his ministry, there are so many rich perspectives we could take. His work of proclaiming a message of preparing hearts is particularly challenging, though, and opens all sorts of possibilities – both for us to create the space to hear his message anew and to follow him into the ministry of proclamation and preparation in our own lives and communities.
May the message of John lead us deeper into the experience of God’s Reign and teach us to be messengers of the Coming One this week.
First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-11
OT Response: Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Second Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-15a
Gospel: Mark 1:1-8
This second week of Advent places the emphasis on those who announce God’s coming, and the important role they play in preparing people for the divine encounter. In Isaiah, a herald is announced who will bring comfort to God’s people by proclaiming the news of God’s coming as a caring and nurturing Shepherd. In Peter’s letter, he acts a messenger of God’s grace, encouraging the believers to live in hope and righteousness, trusting in God’s mercy and the certainty of God’s coming, even though it may seem that God is delaying. In the Psalm, God’s people are encouraged to listen to what God is saying and not go back to ways of wickedness. Finally, in Mark’s Gospel, John the Baptizer comes on the scene and is described as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the coming of the One whom God sends to baptize God’s people in the Holy Spirit. Messengers like these have always been an important part of God’s “strategy” for working in human affairs. There are always those who are called to prepare others for God’s coming and to announce what God is doing. The challenge for our worship in this Advent season is twofold – to create an environment in which we can listen to God’s messengers as a worshiping community and to recognize the ways in which we are called to be messengers to our world in our time.
There are so many distractions at this time of year. The festive atmosphere, the giving of gifts, the holidays and family gatherings all vie for our attention and flood us with expectations and values that we are invited to adopt. In the face of this it is tempting to adopt a negative, judgemental attitude denouncing the loss of Christ in the festivities, but in many ways, this achieves the exact opposite of our calling at this time. Rather than becoming messengers of God’s grace and presence, we end up proclaiming the judgment of a God who is removed from our joy and play, and who has nothing of value to say to our addictions and excesses. Perhaps this Advent we can consider a different way to view our calling. Perhaps we can proclaim – in word and action – the God who is present in the midst of our celebrations, and who seeks to connect with us, and we can invite people to prepare their hearts to encounter this God. We can offer people ways to become more aware of God’s presence in the midst of our celebrations, and we can invite them into the life that comes from embracing the values and principles of God’s Reign. And perhaps we can do this work of proclamation less through our words and more through actions that demonstrate an alternative way of being and that demonstrate God’s grace and compassion, God’s justice and mercy, God’s concern for the poor and marginalized, the broken and grieving, the excluded and rejected. And perhaps we can recognize that the people that need to hear this message of hope and joy are often in our own families, churches, and neighborhoods. If we can become those who both receive the message of God’s Advent messengers and who proclaim the presence of God in our world and our lives, we may well discover that the people around us are eager to receive our message.