2nd Sunday of Advent Mk 1:1-8
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 section of Second Isaiah well captures the joy and relief the people felt. It certainly captures their longing to return to their homeland. Also, and importantly, these verses well convey 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 lives! 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.
To any who doubt, this release from exile is proof of God’s existence and of God’s love.
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 gloom.
However, it is not predicting everlasting death. Bad things will happen. Difficult times will come. But, God will protect the faithful. In this last reassurance, the reading parallels the message of the first reading.
St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the beginning of the Gospel, as the first verse of the reading states, however of course it is not the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. Already in earlier chapters, Luke’s Gospel has revealed the Infancy Narratives, with their stories of the conception, birth and youth of the Lord.
This reading quotes Isaiah. In this prophecy God pledged to 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.
The Gospel then tells of John the Baptist, who went throughout Judea calling people to repentance.
Luke’s Gospel, however, is careful to say that John himself was not the messenger promised by God in the writings of Isaiah, but rather that John came before this messenger. The messenger, the Savior, of course, was the Lord Jesus.
Advent is the time of the year in which the Church clearly, frankly and directly calls people to remember that they are humans, and to recognize the devastating results of sin. This message quite bluntly is the lesson of Second Peter and also the messages of Second Isaiah and of Luke.
Sin, total estrangement from, and rejection of, God, is indeed the root of all evil. It produces death itself, not simply earthly death but eternal death. And, inevitably, it leads to misery in life on earth.
These lessons, while unequivocal and admittedly dour, are not in the end terrifying or filled with doom. Instead, they remind us in all three readings that God’s mercy is overwhelming and unending. God’s mercy gives hope, because through God’s mercy sins are forgiven and everlasting life is acquired.
The key to obtaining this mercy personally is to recognize personal sin and repent. God never turns away a sincerely sorrowful sinner. Always, God’s love prevails. God, however, never drags us kicking and screaming into heaven. We must turn to God voluntarily, wholeheartedly.
Advent calls us realize our situation. Our situation is that we need God, especially in our sinfulness. We need God’s mercy. We must seek it. We must repent.
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