Gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday of #Advent – Sunday, 7th December 2014.
Lectio divina on Mk 1, 1-8 – Second Sunday of Advent Year B
Convinced that the kingdom of God was imminent, John the Baptist devoted himself to proclaiming its coming. To anyone willing to listen to him he made a call for personal conversion as a way of preparing for an encounter with God, the supreme king. The impact of John the Baptist and his preaching on his contemporaries was enormous. Despite the rigour of his life and the severity of his teaching, he succeeded in starting a huge movement of renewal in Israel, a movement that outlived him and lasted even to the time of the early Christians. It is a historical fact that he himself and his teaching prepared the way for the coming of Jesus of Nazareth in whom the kingdom of God was made present. As we prepare for the coming of Jesus into our world, we want to go back and hear again the voice of the one who proclaimed his coming. In his voice we continue to sense the urgent need to change our way of life in order to allow God to come close to us. To help us as we await the Lord’s coming, the Word of God in the liturgy presents us with the voice of the Precursor, the promised messenger whose mission it was to prepare the way for Jesus. As we listen to him we try to imagine that we are among those first listeners, and his message of salvation is still valid if we accept it in our hearts.
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
In the very earliest Christian tradition (Acts 10, 37), the figure and the mission of John the Baptist preceded and prepared for the historical appearance of Jesus. The first written account of this tradition is the Gospel of Mark, the chronicle of Jesus’ public ministry, and of his death and resurrection. It begins with an account of the ministry of John the Baptist. The first Christians considered the preaching of John the Baptist in the desert so decisive that they began the four gospels with it.
Mark gives a brief but very important introduction of John the Baptist. Before the evangelist says anything about him, he allows the Word of God to speak about him. Before he even identifies him by name, or tells us what he did, he lets us know, through the words of the prophet, who he was and what he was sent to do. More important than what he said or did, more important than his baptism and preaching, was what God thought of him and wanted him to be – his messenger and precursor. For the evangelist it was evident that what the Baptist did and the way he lived were the fulfilment of the divine promise. Proclaiming Christ is not a job for volunteers, but the mission of servants sent by God.
The one sent as precursor had no ordinary way of life and no ordinary way of fulfilling his mission. The Baptist who was sent to prepare for the Lord’s coming had to preach repentance, to live in extreme poverty and to foretell the coming of one more powerful, who was capable of baptizing not just with water but with the Holy Spirit. Anyone who is sent to prepare the way of the Lord knows now what he must do and how he must live.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
John the Baptist knew that he was called to be the one who would proclaim the coming of the Lord, and he devoted his whole life to this God-given task. Jesus had not yet made himself known to the world when John was already proclaiming him. John fulfilled his mission by what he said and what he did. By preaching repentance and by living a life of penance, he prepared for the coming of the one who, alone, could grant the Holy Spirit to all who accepted him.
God wants to be close to us but he needs people who will put their voice at his service and bring conversion and hope to those who hear them. Our Christian life will be more genuine and our preaching more effective, if we speak to people by the way we live our lives, and if we offer the promise of something more than we ourselves can give. John the Baptist announced the Lord’s first coming. Does the Lord not still need voices crying in the wilderness so that he can return today? Are there not Christians today whose vocation is to prepare the way of the Lord who comes? If Christ is absent from our world, is it because there are no precursors?
The Baptist’s fellow citizens, the Jewish people of his day, desired God’s coming ardently. They longed for his presence because they wanted to be free from their enemies and return to serving their God as an independent nation. You would think that in those circumstances someone announcing the coming of God in the near future would be welcomed and would have a wide following. But that is not what happened then, and that is not what happens in our own day. From the tragic outcome of John’s life we can highlight two consequences that cast light on our own experience as believers – one that will strengthen us as we wait for the Lord’s coming, and one that indicates what is expected of us in our mission to the world.
The God we are waiting for always announces his presence. Before he sent his Son, he sent a forerunner, a voice that cried in the wilderness. If this is how God acts, it is hard to understand why we find it so difficult to wait for him. The truth is that often we are not too worried by his absence. We do not seem to miss him. We fail to hear the many voices that proclaim his coming, or to discern the many signs that speak to us of his presence.
The problem is not that we do not hear God spoken about in today’s world, but rather that it is hard to find believers who are willing to proclaim him. Nowadays you will find spokespersons for everything. Every activity, every entertainment or hobby, every political party, has someone ready to talk about it, but it is hard to find someone who is enthusiastic when it comes to speaking about God. God does not make news anymore, even among Christians. We tend to give less and less time to God. We are ever more reluctant to speak about him.
It is useless for God to continue to make us his spokespersons. We don’t want to hear him. His messengers disturb us when they speak his word. We, who want to be faithful to God, must first become hearers of his word. If we become attentive listeners to everything that speaks to us about God, then we will be aware of his absence and watchful for his coming. Waiting for God means listening to all who speak in his name, and accepting all that God chooses to communicate to us. We need to listen to his voice, and be able to distinguish his voice from the many worldly voices that surround us, and ponder it in our hearts as Mary did. Then we will become, not only hearers of his word, but bearers of God to our world. That is precisely what Mary did.
Then it will not be too difficult for us to live in hope. All we need to do is to listen to God. If we truly desire God, everything in life can serve to re-awaken our desire. If we live in joyful expectation of his coming, we will recognise his voice in that of his messengers. When we know that he is near and hope for his coming, everyday events help us to recognise the voice and the plan of God. If we commit ourselves to listening to God at all times, we have one more reason to live in hope while we await his final coming.
God is forever in need of messengers, people like John the Baptist who have heard his word and cannot remain silent, believers who await his coming and proclaim it to others. Despite what we may think, God still speaks. He still needs spokespersons, believers who will tell others what they have heard. He needs prophets, who will proclaim to others what they themselves are still waiting for. It is of little use if we know that he is coming and remain silent. We do not prepare for someone unless we are waiting for him. And we do not wait for someone if we know nothing about him. The people of today will not wait for God if we do not convince them that he is coming. We, the people who believe and hope, must lend our voices and our whole lives to God that he can speak through us. If we live without hope and if we remain silent, we force God to be silent, and the world remains in ignorance of his coming. How can we remain the same as we were yesterday, and live the same sort of lives we lived in the past, if we really believe that God is coming to us?
In today’s world we Christians keep quiet about our faith and our reasons for hope. This makes it more difficult for the world to believe in God, and to live in hope for tomorrow. God is not far away. He is still coming, the one in whom we hope. We can proclaim his coming if we are converted to a new way of living, overcoming all life’s difficulties without bitterness or resentment. Our fears and our silence condemn the world to feeling abandoned by God. It is not the atheism of those who do not believe, but the cowardice and silence of believers, that contributes most to the sense of God’s absence in the world of today.
If we really believe that God is coming because he wants to be close to his people, then we believe it not only for our own advantage, in the hope that one day we will be with him as members of his household. God is coming, not just for us, but for all people. We must proclaim our belief to the world.
The silence of Christian parents means that there are children who do not believe. If parents are without hope, weighed down by the needs of the moment, they cannot give their children reason for hope, nor a reason to strive for conversion. This is the unfortunate situation of many families. We live as if we had nothing to hope for in life. Yet we say that we believe in God and in his kingdom that is to come – what a contradiction! We must be converted to hope as we wait for God to come. Without doubt it is already good for us to know that God is far away, but it will be better when he returns and finds us strong in faith and hope. We are witnesses of a God who is coming, a God for whom we long. He is our future. He will change our world, our hearts and our community.