Second Sunday of Advent
The second part of the Book of Isaiah provides the first reading for this Second Sunday of Advent.
When this book was written, God’s people were very happy. Their long, dreary exile of four generations in Babylon was about to end. They were looking forward to returning to their homeland. This reading well captures the people’s joy and relief. It certainly captures their longing to return to their homeland.
Also, and importantly, these verses convey well the sense that this happy circumstance has occurred as a result of God’s mercy and of God’s faithfulness to the Covenant.
It was not as if the people had earned God’s munificence in this regard, or that they had been unusually loyal to the Covenant themselves. To the contrary, their sins had brought misery upon themselves.
But, nevertheless, God’s mercy endured. So, the prophet insists that upon returning to their homeland, the people must go to Jerusalem, to the holy mountain where stood the temple, and there proclaim aloud the goodness of God.
For its second reading this weekend, the Church presents a passage from the Second Epistle of Peter. Its theme differs from that of the first reading. The first reading was wonderfully optimistic. This reading is grim in its predictions of dark days and of unwelcome possibilities in the future.
However — and this is critical — it does not predict everlasting death. Bad things will happen. Difficult times will come, but God always will protect the faithful. In this last reassurance, the reading parallels the message of the first reading.
St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the beginning of the Gospel, as the first verse of the reading states, and the very opening verse states the purpose of this Scripture. It is the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In these relatively few words, the entire reality of salvation is revealed. Something new is being proclaimed, utterly different from the sad moods and dreariness of human life, unbound by the variances of earthly existence. The news, furthermore, is good. Jesus, the Son of God, both conveys this good news and brings its effectiveness into human life.
This reading quotes Isaiah’s prophecy that God will send a representative to guide the people from death to life, from the deadly effects of their sins to the bright realms of God’s forgiveness. God has been true to this pledge. He gives us Jesus.
The Gospel then tells of John the Baptist, who went throughout Judea calling people to repentance. John recognized Jesus. Anyone can recognize Jesus, the Son of God. Too many, however, create an unrealistic image, an invention to confirm the easy way out or excuse us from the task of genuine conversion.
In Advent, the Church clearly, frankly and directly calls people to remember who they are as humans and importantly also to realize sin’s devastating results. Such was the message of John the Baptist.
These steps require frankness and humility. We first must admit our sin and also our human limitations. We must see what sin, or total estrangement from and rejection of God, actually is. It is the cause of eternal death and often of misery in earthly existence.
The ultimate message, nevertheless, is not of doom and gloom. While we are limited and have sinned, while we well may have made quite a mess for ourselves and for others, all of this weekend’s readings remind us that God’s mercy is overwhelming and unending. So, we have reason to hope. God will forgive us. God will strengthen us.
The key to obtaining this mercy personally is in admitting our personal sin and repenting. God does not drag us kicking and screaming into heaven, so we must turn to God — wholeheartedly.
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