On this second Sunday of Advent we hear the opening lines of Mark’s Gospel. Mark is believed to have been the secretary of Peter and Paul and wrote his Gospel in the year 70 from Rome. A writer. some say, will put his most important idea in the first line of his text. Here the first line is “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” Mark is telling us what his whole Gospel is about: that there is something new to know, and it is profoundly good. So what is the evangelion, the good news of Jesus Christ, anyway?
The Jews experienced exile for much of their history. And now, although they were in their homeland, they were under the occupation of the Romans. Israel is waiting for a messiah to restore her to her true mission and identity of being "a light to the nations".
"A people who walked in darkness have seen a great light". Mark’s news is that Jesus Christ is the messianic figure they have been waiting for. But the enemy, says Mark, is not Caesar. Rather, there is a strange twist. John the Baptist is “preparing the way of the Lord” by preaching “a baptism of repentance”. That’s a rather odd thing to be preaching, when you are waiting for your liberator. What does repentance have to do with anything when you are the oppressed people?
Yet this is the message of this strange new Messiah: the oppression we might experience on the outside is a small thing compared to the oppression we might feel on the inside. Or put another way: we can only begin to bring about God's kingdom if we first reform ourselves. We are all exiles, in a sense, and we long to find our true homeland. Most of us feel imprisoned one way or another. We might be enslaved by our addictions, by our weaknesses, by our frustrations, by our faults. In short, we feel at times the lack of love in our life. Our true liberation will come only when we throw off the chains that hold us in bondage, and discover our true homeland that is with Jesus Christ. “The kingdom of God is within you!” he said.
John the Baptist knew we would find our freedom when we meet Jesus, but for this to happen, our hearts have to be prepared. How do we “make his paths straight”, which is to say, how do I prepare the road for him to come to me? Many of the streets in Regina, Saskatchewan, have large bumps and sudden depressions because of the cold winters that cause the earth to heave with the frost. They sometimes impede smooth travelling around town, and can even ruin the axles of cars if one hits them too fast. Our Advent task is to make smooth the roadways into our hearts for the Lord.
How do we fulfill that Advent task? It means, as Hans Urs von Balthasar has said, "we must search deep inside for that turning point in our innermost self, the place where we turn from the 'I' to the 'thou' and to God, from a sterile living for ourselves, to a fruitful and joy-filled living for others." (You Crown the Year with Your Goodness). We must accept the insistence of John the Baptist that we go to the Jordan River. We do this by praying to God with our families, reading the scriptures a little bit each day, and confessing our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation. When we do these things we are bathing in the river of mercy; thus, the same means of preparation are as available to us as they were to the people in John's time.
Today, December 10, we are exactly in the middle of two Marian feasts. Two days ago we celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Two days from now is the feast of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. It’s like we are standing in the middle of Mary’s great spirit breathing "yes" to the coming of the Lord. Mary was the first fully prepared to receive Jesus Christ, so much so, that she received him bodily in her womb, and gave him her flesh and blood. As such, she is the “mother of Advent”, the queen of hearts preparing to receive her Son. Like her, we are all empowered to become pregnant with Christ, that is to say, to carry him in ourselves and bear him to the world.
It is not complicated, but we do need to be reminded of it with frequency. We carry Jesus when we are kind to our brothers and sisters, when we love our spouses, when we bear patiently the small humiliations that happen in our lives, and turn them into opportunities for love, a superhuman act which is true power. When we turn to God each morning and each evening and say: “thank you, Lord, for the gift of life. You have given everything to me. I offer it back to you.” These are the acts that transform us into a free people. And nobody – no Caesar, no tyrant, no bully, no bad boss at work – nobody can take that away from us. For we belong to God and God belongs to us.