(For an audio version of this reflection, click here)
The Gospel of today’s 2nd Sunday of Advent is the opening of the gospel according to Mark: “The beginning of the Good News (euangelion) about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Similar to our times, Mark was writing in the midst of persecution, suffering and uncertainty that his community was undergoing during that time. Despite all of these, Mark proclaimed the good news which is about Jesus Christ. Mark daringly invited his people to change their perspectives and pin their hopes on Jesus Christ who is the good news. As in the times of Mark, the gospel today and in every liturgy is an invitation for us towards a fresh view of life, even a reversal of how we look at things; a new way of thinking, doing and living.
In this second Sunday of Advent, the liturgy presents us the epitome of this transforming and hopeful attitude in John the Baptist. In this advent season, we are invited by the church to take our cue from John the Baptist. What is the sign of John the Baptist?
John the Baptist’s was a prophet because he foreshadowed the coming of the messiah similar to Old Testament prophecies. But more than foreshadowing, he prepared the people for the coming of Jesus through repentance—a change of mind, hearts and guts. John the Baptist as a prophet was also not afraid to point out the evil deeds of people. That is why Herod shut him up in prison.
In this season of Advent, John the Baptist’ prophetic announcements reminds us that the more meaningful preparation for Christmas is the critical appraisal of our values, attitudes and deeds. Advent is the season to examine how we have aligned our ways of thinking, doing and living in accordance with Jesus’ gospel.
Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
John the Baptist lifestyle speaks of severe asceticism and ritual purity. John the Baptist’ lifestyle highlights the penitential character of advent. That is why, just like Lent, the liturgical color of Advent is purple. In contrast to all the partying, eating and drinking common to this season, John the Baptist invites us to tame our desires and purify our hearts. He invites us not to get drowned with the over-commecialization and materialization of Christmas. Advent is a time to recognize that we are sinful. Our personal and social sins have hindered us from experiencing the wonder and joy of the coming of the Lord in our lives.
John the Baptist did not preach in the center of power—Jerusalem but in the “wilderness” or the desert. John the Baptist invited the people to leave their center of power and go to the desert. The desert always had a special significance in Scripture. It is a holy place, a place where God is specially to be found. It is also a place of struggle. It was in the desert that the Israelites spent 40 years on their way to the Promised Land. It was in the desert that Jesus had his tussle with the Evil One. It was in the desert that Jesus often went to pray and in the desert that he fed the people.
John the Baptist invites us during this Advent season to go to the desert. In the midst of all the noise and hectic schedule of the season, can we afford to withdraw in silence and spend some quality moments in prayer in order to fathom the greatest mystery of history—the incarnation of God into our lives and God’s own creation? This demands humility in order to learn how to bow down to the greatest wonder of God’s embrace and acceptance of our vulnerable and fragile situation.
John the Baptist gave the people hope by announcing the coming of the messiah in the midst of despair of the people. In this season of Advent, despite the violence, oppression and falsehood, we cannot succumb to despair but continue to be relentless in hope. We must continue our unity and advocacy for truth, justice and wellbeing especially for the poor and the most abandoned of our society. The season of Advent strengthens our hope that justice, peace and righteousness will prevail over violence, terror and falsehood.
In this season of Advent, let us learn from John the Baptist, and listen to his voice from the wilderness. Let us accept his invitation for a baptism of repentance. John the Baptist gives us the sure and certain route to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John the Baptist invites us during this advent season to a change in our perspectives and strengthens our hope in Jesus Christ who is the good news.