10th December 2017
The first reading is a well-known passage, set to music so elegantly by Handel – just listen to it and reflect! The text originated at the time of the ending of the Babylonian captivity of the chosen people of God, as the prophet announces hope and consolation from God as the time of their exile draws to an end. The way back to the promised land is either a huge detour or is a way across the desert – they have felt deserted even by God but now see a way ahead – there is always a way for us to return to God when we have strayed and lived away from Him. The prophet interprets the exile as a time of punishment for all their previous neglect of their religious practices and lack of faithfulness to God. The voice puts it the other way round: God is coming to them. It is about setting things right so that God can come cutting through all the obstacles that we have which prevent His engagement with us; if we can do that then we can envisage God’s glory – His presence – not as individuals but as a community of people together. The symbolism and allusions of this passage to growth in our spiritual lives are remarkable and should not be overlooked. The voice announces the glad news (the word ‘gospel’ means good news) for God cares for us like the ideal shepherd. The deeper meanings behind this passage are eminently relevant to us at this time of Advent – of preparation.
The second reading is from a letter attributed to Peter, but addresses a much later situation, about 100 AD, The message is for those who are worried about the Second Coming of Christ and the day of Judgment which seems to have been unduly delayed way beyond their expectations. Don’t worry that people are dying before the end comes, the reading argues, alluding to Psalm 90 (especially verses 3 and 4). The important thing is repentance – moving from our old ways to living within the life of God. Through Christ we can do this but we must start now (as we in Advent prepare) to be eager to free ourselves of any spiritual blemish.
The gospel is the opening words of the Gospel of Mark and may be taken in three different ways because of the ambiguity of the little word “of” before “Jesus Christ.” Firstly, it can mean that the message which the gospel is about to present is the very message that Jesus Himself came to deliver to us- it is the good news from Jesus. Secondly, it may be taken to imply that Mark is going to tell us the good news about Jesus – he came to save humanity and by his death (and resurrection) he did. And thirdly, “the Good News of Jesus” can mean that Jesus is Himself good news for us. I think we might think on these three, but accept them all as meaningful to us. This goes beyond what the author had in mind, but this kind of development for a deeper understanding is the way Scripture is used; the next part of our reading shows the author developing the words of Isaiah in the first reading. The voice in the Isaiah reading calls for preparation to be made in the desert; it is a voice that says, “in the desert prepare the way of the Lord.” To apply this to the preaching of John the Baptist in the desert by the river Jordan, the text has been punctuated differently – “a voice in the desert cries out: prepare the way of the Lord.” Throughout history, God comes to us in various ways at different times, and we must prepare to let Him into our lives. We must apply to our situation the message of John, calling out “repent” which means “change your way of thinking!” What we must do as we prepare in Advent for a renewed coming of Christ to us is to let Him into our life, for He shows the way to live for the good of others and consequently for our own good too.