SUNDAY GOSPEL REFLECTION FROM VATICAN RADIO
(English version exclusive to this website)
Translated and summarized from the homily by Fr Fabio Rosini
December 10th 2023. Second Sunday of Advent
GOSPEL: Mark: 1, 1-8
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...
GOSPEL: Mark: 1, 1-8
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I 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."
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 to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
On this second Sunday of Advent, we read the first words from the oldest Gospel, that of Mark. These lines cite Isaiah and we learn that John the Baptist is in the desert announcing the immanent coming of the Lord. Why is the Lord’s way always prepared in the desert? As a result of disobedience, humanity lost the beauty of the garden and finds itself in the desert. Therefore, the people of Israel (and us as well!) have to do a long and difficult passage through the desert before entering the Promised Land. In Scripture, the desert is always a place of conversion and growth, a place of changing direction. The theme of this Gospel, ultimately, is the forgiveness of sins, becoming reoriented towards the love of God. All of Judea goes to John the Baptist, searching for the experience of the pardon of the Lord. Sometimes, our churches are not filled with people, perhaps because we do not announce the pardon of God clearly enough. John, we are told, was dressed in camel hair and ate locusts and wild honey. There is something very essential and ascetic about him, and the fathers of the Church were fascinated by these details. John represented a return to something elemental and authentic. He was living for what really counts. Each one of us needs to shed the infinite layers of protection under which we hide ourselves, to detach ourselves from that which is not essential. John wished to prepare us for our encounter with our real bridegroom, and this called for us to shed whatever is false, superfluous and empty, to become our true selves, what God created us to be. This demands that we shed useless interests and useless roles. Jesus alone is the one to whom we should yearn to be united. For this, we need to prepare His way into our lives by getting rid of aimless distractions, by embracing the simplification of the desert. Here we will become ourselves and be converted to his love.
This Sunday we read from the Book of Consolation of the prophet Isaiah and from the opening lines of the Gospel of Mark
In this second Sunday of Advent we have two beginnings: the opening words of the Gospel of Mark and the start of the “Book of Consolation” in the prophet Isaiah. The book of the prophet Isaiah can be divided into two parts: the so-called “proto-Isaiah” – the words of a wonderful and powerful prophet who lived in the eighth century before Christ; and a second figure, who may also have been called Isaiah, whose words are found from chapter 40 onwards of the book of Isaiah. This individual is directing his prophetic words at a completely different historical epoch, about 530 years before Christ. It is the time when the people are about to return home from exile to their own land. The time of correction and purification has come to an end. The words of the “Book of Consolation” speak of this time.
Why is the Lord’s coming announced in the desert, the most useless place to announce anything?
The Gospel reading is from the opening words of the oldest of the Gospels and it cites the prophet Isaiah. Behold, I 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." This cry in the desert represents a new beginning of some sort. The Second Sunday of Advent asks us to reflect on a passage through the desert. As the prophet says, “In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! 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”. Here we are talking about the way of the Lord’s coming and the necessity that it be prepared. John the Baptist was given this mission to herald the coming of the Lord. Usually a herald cries out in a crowded public square, but John does so in the desert! The desert seems the most useless place to proclaim anything. But John does so and announces a baptism of conversion. The people actually go to him from the city of Jerusalem and all of Judea. But why?
The desert represents our emptiness and poverty, our need for salvation. It is only when we are aware of our malnourishment and desolation that we look to the Lord
John begins in the desert. Why is such a strange place chosen for this new announcement? In Scripture the desert is the place of transformation and evolution. It is not a suitable place to live but is a place that we pass through to become something else, something new. When the people came out of Egypt they then passed through the desert in order to arrive at a new life. Many of them died on this journey, but above all it is a place where the “old man within us” must die. In this place of desolation and emptiness we encounter God. Why does the first Gospel begin in the desert? Why does the Book of Consolation begin in the desert? The ways of the Lord are prepared in the desert because the desert represents our emptiness and poverty, our failure and incompleteness, our utter fragility. We are inclined to think that we can begin from our abilities and talents, and these attributes will prompt the Lord to come to us. But how can we truly welcome him? How can we avoid missing him when he visits us every day? He visits us in thousands of ways, but we do not realize that he is present until we reflect on those things afterwards and see that we have failed to love and welcome him. How can we avoid missing the new life that comes to us in these ways? By beginning from the desert within us! We need to recognize our own poverty, failures and limitations. The new life always begins from the failure of the old one. We need to be poor so that when the Lord comes we are open to him. We need to be people who crave nourishment, who need to be consoled. Only then are we ready to welcome the Consoler.
John the Baptist tells us what we need to do, but only the Holy Spirit can give us the power to do these things
Who are we waiting for? John the Baptist speaks of “the one who is stronger than I am, the one who brings something greater than I can bring”. John provides a baptism in water and the challenge to repent and turn away from sin, but the one who is coming “will baptize with the Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit is the principle of new life, the principle of the life of God. He is equal to God, he is God and he enters into us. Who is stronger, the one who says “make straight the paths of the Lord”, the one who tells us the things that we need to do to prepare of the Lord? Or the one who gives us the capacity to do the things of the Lord? The Holy Spirit not only helps us to understand what needs to be done, he helps us to do these things, makes us capable of doing them. Jesus is the one who gives up his Spirit on the cross and then gives it to us when he is risen. The one who dies and rises again for us, who gives us life that originates in his love for us. John the Baptist helps us to understand what we ought to do, but the Lord Jesus enables us to do these things. He came to give us this completeness, this new life, that which allows us to live in a different manner, that which makes us born again from above.