The first Reading from Prophet Isaiah, (Is 40:1-5, 9-11), prophesied the return of the people of Israel from Babylonian captivity. This repatriation from Babylon was presented as a second exodus. The Reading is thus upbeat – full of hope and expectation. It proclaimed, “’Console my people, console them’ says your God. ‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended, that her sin is atoned for….”
It then announced the construction of a highway for the captives to return home. Mountains and hills were to be flattened and valleys filled in. Just as the Lord led the people of Israel by pillar of cloud during the day and pillar of fire during the night, (Ex 13:21-22), on their escape from Egyptian captivity, so would the Lord lead them as they return from Babylonian captivity.
This first Reading, read within the context of our preparation for Christmas, reminds us that cleanliness leads to godliness. Thus, our preparation should not be only physical, but must include spiritual awakening. We should prepare our hearts for the Lord by renouncing sin and offering our lives “as living sacrifices to the Lord”, (Rom 12:1).
The Gospel, (Mk 1:1-8), presents us with the precursor of Jesus Christ: John the Baptist. John was a man of integrity who devoted himself to the mission entrusted to him by God. He was baptised in the womb of Elizabeth when Mary visited Elizabeth. Luke 1:41 tells us that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with Holy Spirit. Jesus made us understand in Matthew 21:25 that baby John’s baptism occurred in this incident.
John the Baptist was a prophet who came to prepare the people of Israel for the coming of Christ and to make Christ known to the world. He came in the spirit of Elijah, a great icon of Old Testament prophets. The Book of Prophet Malachi, (3:1, 4:5-6), prophesied about the return of Prophet Elijah before the coming of the Messiah. Jesus in responding to his disciple’s question made them understood that John the Baptist was the fulfiller of the prophesy of Malachi about the second coming of Elijah, (Mt 17:10-13). In John 1:29, he looked at Jesus and declared, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
John the Baptist lived and received the message of God in the wilderness. Psalm 46:10 states, “be still and know that I am God”. In the fast and bustling life of today, we still need some quiet to hear the voice of God and the voice of reason and common sense.
John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord by being truthful and being a voice for the voiceless. He proclaimed “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan, they confessed their sins.” We too, like the repentant Israelites, have rejected Satan and sin through our baptism into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
The Advent period invites us to recommit ourselves to Christ by reconciling ourselves with God, ourselves, and our neighbours. There may be some mountains or hills in our lives that we may need to level or some valleys that we may need to fill in. These mountains, hills and valleys may include living a false life, excessive gambling, addiction to drugs, laziness, not having time for God, pride, unwillingness to seek for pardon, unwillingness to pardon others, being agent of division in your family, victimising others, etc.
Though the Mass reconciles us with God and our neighbours, however, during this holy time of Advent, we are all invited to have one-on-one conversation with God about our spiritual journey. We are called to present to God our successes, struggles and failures.
I end this Homily with the Franciscan Hymn:
Lord Make me a Channel of Your Peace
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord
and where there’s doubt, true faith in you.
Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
so much to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
to be loved as to love with all my soul.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp