2nd Sunday of Advent (Cycle B) – December 10, 2017

This Sunday’s Theme: Salvation and New Beginnings from God .

New Beginnings:  Isaiah (Reading 1) announces a new beginning for the exiles. Peter (Reading 2)speaks about a new creation for those awaiting the Lord’s return.  Mark (Gospel) introduces John the Baptist who promises a new beginning to all who repent.

“Those that aim at holiness constantly look into sacred writings to examine their lives,
to scrutinize their deeds. In addition, if they find anything reprehensible, inordinate,
or out of keeping with their state, they at once use every effort to amend and set it right,
according to the light they have received.” 
(St. Augustine)

Reading 1 – Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11     Isaiah tells the people to prepare a way for the Lord.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 85:9-14     The Lord’s salvation is near.
Reading 2 2 Peter 3:8-14     Peter teaches that we must always be holy because the return of the Lord cannot be predicted.
Gospel –  Mark 1:1-8     John the Baptist preaches repentance and baptizes the people, in preparation for the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Reading 1     Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11                    (God is Near)

Context – The keynote of the Book of Isaiah is salvation (Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah saves”). He was the prophet of the southern kingdom, Judah, and lived at the time (i.e. 742 – 687 BC) when the northern kingdom, Israel, whose capital was Jerusalem, was destroyed. At this time all that was left of the old kingdom of David was Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites. He prophesized for 64 years. He prophesized doom  for a sinful Judah and Israel and for all the nations of the world that oppose God. Then, he prophesized God’s restoration of the nation of Israel, including Judah, and this is interpreted by Christians as prefiguring the coming of Christ. After the Psalms, Isaiah is the Old Testament book most quoted in the New Testament.
Today’s Reading – Isaiah announces to the weary Israelites that their time of exile is over and that they can now return to their homeland similar to what Jesus will announce at His Second Coming.
The reading opens in the heavens where God is holding court with His counsel (the prophets) who will be sent by Him to speak a message of consolation to the weary and disheartened exiles (“Comfort, give comfort to My people.”). Guilt for their sin of disloyalty to God is to be removed. Then ‘a voice’ from the heavenly court speaks of a new exodus when the Lord will create a new highway on which the exiles will travel back to their homeland. In the final two verses, Jerusalem (Zion, the Jews) becomes God’s messenger. She is to cry out to the cities of Judah telling them that God is in their midst. This mighty God is imaged as a gentle shepherd carrying His flock home. Today we are to speak the message of consolation to the world that Jesus, just like His Heavenly Father, is the gentle shepherd that will carry His flock home – He is the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

Comfort, give comfort to My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem (God is directing the prophets to speak to the Chosen People, the Jews in Exile.), and proclaim to her that her service is at an end (the Exile of the Jews from their homeland, due to their disbelief and transgressions, is at an end. They will now be able to return to Jerusalem.), her guilt is expiated (forgiven); indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.

A voice cries out (For OT people this voice is God’s voice, for NT people this is a prophetic reference to the voice of  John The Baptist.): In the desert prepare the way of the LORD (Christianity is called “The Way”.)! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. (God is directing the prophets to help the people to return to Him, by creating pathways that they can traverse (i.e. understand what is proper for them to do.) Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken (OT – God will rescue His people. NT – Christ will redeem humankind.).

Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by His strong arm; here is His reward with Him, His recompense (grace/gift for us) before Him. Like a Shepherd He feeds His flock; in His arms He gathers the lambs, carrying them in His bosom, and leading the ewes with care.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.  

Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 85:9-14                     (God’s Salvation)

Today’s Psalm – Just as in Reading 1, God announces His salvation. God and His goodness are about to revisit His people. Just as Jesus will revisit His people in the Second Coming.

R. – Lord, let us see Your kindness, and grant us Your salvation.
I will hear what God proclaims; the LORD—for He proclaims peace to His people. Near indeed is His salvation to those who fear Him, glory dwelling in our land.
(The basis of the Psalmists confidence in the return of the Lord was the Lord’s promised deliverance of those who fear Him. See PAUSE, below.)
R. – Lord, let us see Your kindness, and grant us Your salvation.
Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. – Lord, let us see Your kindness, and grant us Your salvation.
The LORD Himself will give His benefits; our land shall yield its increase. Justice shall walk before Him, and prepare the way of His steps.
R. – Lord, let us see Your kindness, and grant us Your salvation.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           How to fear the Lord:  Psalm 34 states, to fear the Lord – “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit , depart from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it”. Also:   – Discover Him, Learn about Him, Worship Him (devotion).   – Seek His will in all matters and act upon it (service).    – Be obedient to Him in both good and bad times.   – Love Him and give Him thanks.   – Reflect Jesus in our thoughts, words, and deeds.   – Do justly, love kindness, be merciful, humble yourself, and walk humbly with your God.   – Tell others about Him.   – Hate evil.   The “fear of the Lord” is one of the seven gifts from the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2) but we must open up this gift (i.e. this ability) and use it as shown in all the above.   Fear of the Lord = full of love, awe, respect, trust, faith, and obedience towards God. 

Reading 2.     2 Peter 3:8-14                (A New Earth)        

Context – The First Letter Of Peter was written to encourage the church members as they experience apparently undeserved trials and suffering. Also to provide practical advice on relations with the civil authorities, and within society and families. The Second Letter Of Peter was written as a warning about false teachers, especially their denial of Christ’s divinity and His Second Coming.
Today’s Reading – This reading underlines the importance of a Christian’s moral judgment and conduct as the proper behavior, day by day, while awaiting the Lord’s coming. The awaited Second Coming of Jesus seems to be on hold. Why? Because, according to Peter, the Lord wants to give people more time to repent and prepare their lives for their ultimate encounter with God.

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years
and a thousand years like one day
(We cannot confine the Lord to our time schedules.) The Lord does not delay His promise, as some regard “delay,” but He is patient with you (“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation.” – 1 Peter 3:15. It means that Jesus is waiting to fulfill His Second Coming so people will have more time to repent. That is, He is patient and long suffering.), not wishing that any should perish
but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord
(A biblical expression for times of divine judgment on the world,) will come like a thief (when no one expects it), and then the heavens will pass away (The term “heavens” probably refers to the earth and its atmosphere and the “second heaven” in which the stars and the planets exist, but not God’s abode – the “third heaven”.) with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. But according to His promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before Him, at peace.

PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Gospel     Mark 1:1-8                         (Need for Repentance)

Context – St. Mark’s Gospel was the first written of the Gospels contained in the New Testament. The date of writing was prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. St. Peter was Mark’s primary source of information about the life of Jesus. Mark is primarily known by his Roman name “Mark” but is sometimes called by his Jewish name “John” in other New Testament Writings. He was a cousin to Barnabas and  an associate of St. Paul. Recognizing Jesus as the divine Son of God is the goal of this gospel. And it was written to encourage Christians who were suffering persecution for their faith. It begins with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

Today’s Reading –   John the Baptist is seen as the messenger whom Isaiah spoke about in Reading 1. As the people respond to John’s call to repentance, they are baptized with water—an outward sign of an interior cleansing occurring in their soul. Then John speaks of his subordinate role:  “One mightier than he is about to come, One who will baptize them with the Holy Spirit.” John’s diet of locusts (grasshoppers) and honey would have reminded his audience of the two traditional symbols of judgment and comfort. Locusts are considered as instruments of divine judgment because of their fierce punishing power (Ex.10:4), whereas honey signifies peace, plenty and blessing. For those who open their hearts to John, his message will bring the “honey” of peace and joy. On the other hand, those who refuse to receive the truth of his message will experience the devouring “locust” of divine judgment.
John the Baptist was sent to preach in preparation for another. He is presented to us as a model during Advent. We, too, are called upon to prepare a way for the Lord. Like John the Baptist, we are messengers in service to One who is greater than we are. Our Baptism commissions us to call others to life as disciples of Jesus.

The beginning of the gospel (the good news) of Jesus Christ the Son of God. 

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I (i.e. God) am sending My messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.” (The Jews believe this messenger to be Elijah, he is the one who is to come to purify Israel before the Day of Yahweh. This is why the Jews, even to this day, always set a place for Elijah at the Passover table.)   John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy (evidence of John’s humility) to stoop and loosen the thongs of His sandals. I have baptized you with water;’
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.            John’s baptism in water was a baptism of repentance, a baptism that brought forgiveness for the past but which by itself could never enable sinful hearts to persevere in the future. This comes with the baptism that Jesus brings, a baptism in the Holy Spirit. Through this baptism the Holy Spirit enables us not only to follow Christ, but to live His love, His faith, and His triumph over death. This is the Christ we follow and believe that our own baptism in His Spirit enables us to live and act in the mind of Christ Jesus. (From Catholic Herald)

Catechism 523 – St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare His way. “Prophet of the Most High”, John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother’s womb welcomes the coming of Christ (at the Visitation of the Blessed Mother Mary with Elizabeth, John’s mother), and rejoices in being “the friend of the Bridegroom”, whom he points out as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. Going before Jesus “in the spirit and power of Elijah”, John bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his Baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom.