2nd Sunday of Advent, Dec. 10, 2017
(Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8)
The tone of the first reading is quite different from last week. Last week’s lament is followed by this week’s cry of comfort for Jerusalem and Judah: “her service is at an end; her guilt is expiated.” After this Isaiah introduces a theme, which has been called “creative redemption.”
The prophet weaves together the recreation of the earth, specifically of the Holy Land and environs, with Israel’s redemption. Thus, the Prophet announces the “making a straight highway for the Lord in the wasteland.” Valleys will be filled in and mountains will be leveled. In all of this the glory of the Lord will be revealed. Jerusalem announces the return of her God, who comes carrying the exiles from Babylon back to their homeland in Judah. It is announced as an accomplished fact, that the Lord has acted powerfully to return this captive people, with the joy we would expect when captives are freed.
This kind of sheer joy Mark uses to begin his “gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark combines Isaiah with Malachi, although he attributes everything to Isaiah as he begins: “Behold I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way, (Malachi 3:1) A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths (Isaiah 40:3)’.”
With this booming announcement, Mark begins right in the middle of things. It is somewhat like Mark saying “Now hear this!” What he announces begins with the identity of Jesus, as “Christ” and as “Son of God.” It will take his immediate disciples until chapter 8 for Peter to confess “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29) It will take until chapter 15 for the Roman centurion to confess: “Truly this man was Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)
Oddly enough, throughout the rest of Mark at various points, the demons and unclean spirits will testify that Jesus is the Son of God, but the disciples ignore them. Mark is fast-paced, jumping from one event to another, almost as if he can’t wait to get to the main attraction which, in Mark, is the passion and death of Jesus. Many have noted that Mark is primarily a Passion narrative with a long introduction.
After the opening announcement, Mark immediately turns to the figure of John the Baptizer. Technically, because Mark uses two participles, the text should read “It happened that John was baptizing in the desert and was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness (or remission) of sins.” This is typical of Mark, who keeps us in the action by using participles to keep the action moving.
Mark then writes, somewhat exaggeratedly, that “all the Judean countryside and all people living in Jerusalem were going out to John and they were being baptized (meaning dipped or washed) by him in the Jordan River, for the remission of their sins.” Once again we see how active the scene is. The description of John’s clothing and diet establish him as a prophet (see 2 Kings 1:8), who announces that one who is “stronger is coming after me,” which meant as a successor to him, (not that he was being chased by someone).
John admits his own baptism is with water, but he adds that the one coming will baptize “with the holy spirit.” John does not specify holy spirit with the definite article so it must be supplied, but given that the work was written for Christian believers, it doubtless refers to the Holy Spirit here.
II Peter tries to address the delay of the Lord’s return. Any “delay” is regarded as an exercise of the Lord’s patience. As such it is an opportunity for us to clean up our act in pursuit of holiness, never mind the apocalyptic description of the “day of the Lord.”
Fr. Lawrence L. Hummer email@example.com