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Advent II: The Baptist creates a storm!
"Make ready!"

The Word for 2nd Sunday of Advent:

Is 40: 1-5, 9-11
Peter 3: 8-14
Mark 1: 1-8

There is nothing like a powerful Midwest thunderstorm to get your attention.  Having grown up in the Chicago area my memories of the summertime are basically: hot –humid-thundershowers.  Exactly in that order and the repetition of that pattern for at least four months. Strange as it might sound, I do miss those thunderstorms. Our weather here in the Northwest, though exciting at times, is rather wimpy by comparison.
With powerful winds, rolling thunder and crackling lighting in a matter of about 30 minutes you may find yourself without electricity and taking cover in the ever present basements just in case a tornado would sprout from the dark clouds above. 
Yet, just as quickly as those storms would unleash their muscle, in a short time, they would be over.  The aftermath left you peering out the windows to see branches or something larger on the ground. You’ve got to pay attention and respond quickly before it’s too late.
Not unlike our readings as we look to the Second Sunday of Advent.  The Mass will still sound a bit odd to many, including myself, as we adjust to the tone of our new translation and more expressive English but the real star of the show this Sunday is the “voice which cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!”
Like a turbulent Midwest thunderstorm, John the Baptist rolls on stage and creates quite a ruckus.  According to the opening lines of Mark’s Gospel this Sunday, this enigmatic figure, John the “dipper,” appears like a thunderclap.  As the last and greatest prophet of the Old Testament, John acts as a hinge on the door from one Testament to the next as he cries out: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” (Mk1:1) Like a bulldozer or a powerful wind which can level tall trees, this guy will not be stopped.
But, who is listening to this crazy man dressed in “camels hair” who eats “locusts and wild honey?” Crazy he wasn’t.  Mark relates: “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 . . .” (Mk 1: 5).  People could spot a false prophet pretty well but there was nothing inauthentic about John.  He amassed followers and moved the hearts of many to repentance. 
But his mission was single minded – to prepare the hearts and minds of the people for the imminent coming of Jesus among them. Not with the force of violence and fear but a cry that calls us to attention: “One mightier than I is coming after me . . .” (Mk 1: 7). Jesus himself will appear as John did, like a clap of thunder, but will be more like the calm after the storm which restores life and releases the power to change.
As Isaiah says in our first reading:  “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem . . . that her guilt is expiated.” (Is 40: 1-2).  
In a real sense, John was the evening news reported hot off the press, or hot off the high speed internet cable lines, that began the announcement of the Good news of God’s salvation.  Not in a body of laws, rules and regulations but in a person sent into our midst, Jesus the Christ the very Word of God made flesh. Like the signs in the sky of an approaching storm, the weather is about to greatly change!
Who is John for you?  A mere ancient biblical voice lost in the dust of history? Or, how and where does the cry of the Baptist happen today in this time and place? John called the throngs around the Jordan River to a change of heart and lifestyle; to a metanoia, to straighten out their lives and make the paths straight to recognize Christ when he comes.  In that way, we can be ready to let John go and be open to hear a new voice in Jesus. 
John’s voice is as essential today as in any age.  A few years ago, Forbes magazine entitled their 75th anniversary issue:  Why We Feel so Bad When We Have it so Good.” Various well known political and economic experts contributed to the issue.  One, historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, warned of our fascination with affluence and the unsettled discovery that, “economic and material goods are no compensation for social and moral ills.” Another writer, Peggy Noonan, speech writer for the late President Regan, commented that we have been formed as a people to expect endless happiness so our search has caused only despair.  
Powerful thoughts but not all together off the mark by any means. We hear this many times in our Christian faith and we go back to St. Augustine who recognized that his pursuit of happiness in sensual pleasure and material wealth was really a search for God who alone can satisfy us. “Late have I loved you . . .” St. Augustine admitted in prayer once he was brought to his own conversion.  
Advent is a time when we can step into the sandals of John the Baptist.  Since Christianity is a religion that speaks much about the future with great hope and longing, we can each in our own way not only prepare our personal hearts by the pruning and purifying and personal change that may be necessary to greet Christ among us at Christmas but become heralds of the good news as well.
In our Mass, we now hear at the dismissal: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”  So, let’s make a little thunder and lightning of our own this Advent season.
Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those

who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our leaning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company. 
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
(Collect: 2nd Sunday of Advent)
Fr. Tim

43 posted on 12/04/2011 5:52:49 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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Insight Scoop

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for December 4, 2011, the Second Sunday of Advent | Carl E. Olson

• Is 40:1-5, 9-11
• Ps 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14
• 2 Pt 3:8-14
• Mk 1:1-8

“In my beginning is my end.” This line opens “East Coker,” the second section of T.S. Eliot’s poetic masterpiece, Four Quartets. It is followed by a haunting, elegiac reflection on the fragile and transitory nature of life as seen in the cycle of life and death in nature. What is the meaning of our short lives? What hope is man given in this passing world? In whom shall we trust for our salvation?

These questions are always with us, but gain in poignancy during Advent. While the entire liturgical year is ultimately oriented toward all that is heavenly and everlasting, Advent is especially focused on the end of our earthly lives. And, just as Eliot indicated, the beginning points to The End, a fact presented by St. Mark in his direct, urgent style: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” 

More than a heading or title, this is a bold proclamation of the good news and joyful tidings of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the inspired declaration that the man Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah, the anointed one. He has come to deliver his people from sin and death, and to establish the reign of God among men. This announcement is made within the Gospel of Mark by St. Peter, a Jew following in the footsteps of Jesus, (Mk 8:29), and by the centurion, a Gentile standing at the foot of the Cross. In this way, the universal nature of the new covenant is revealed and professed.

But the first announcement in Mark’s Gospel is from the lips of St. John the Baptist, the voice crying out in the desert. John is the last of the Old Testament prophets, but he is “more than a prophet” (Lk. 7:26), a mysterious figure whose strange physical appearance is coupled with a striking message: “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Ritual cleansing with water was not new to the Jews, but this baptism in the Jordan River was clearly meant to be different. The Jordan River, of course, was significant in its symbolism. The forty years of exodus in the wilderness had ended many hundreds of years earlier when Joshua led the Israelites across the river and into the promised land (Josh. 3). The Messiah, John indicated, is going to call the people to enter through water into a new promised land, a new Zion, a new Jerusalem. 

This beginning, rooted in the Old Covenant, provides the grace and forgiveness necessary for the end, what is described by St. Peter as the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). But this end is already present in the beginning. In the words of Eliot, “Home is where one starts from.” Baptism brings us home; it destroys sin, restores the divine life of God, and makes man a son of God. For “just as the gestation of our first birth took place in water,” remarks the Catechism, “so the water of Baptism truly signifies that our birth into the divine life is given to us in the Holy Spirit” (CCC 694). This is the comfort spoken of by Isaiah in today’s first reading; it is the peace, truth, justice, and salvation desired by the Psalmist. 

In listening to the cry of John the Baptist we hear the message of Advent: Prepare the way of the Lord by repenting of sin and embracing the divine life granted in baptism. Go to confession, spend additional time in prayer, and proclaim the Gospel in word and deed. By spending more time in prayer and contemplation, we open the way for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “We must be still and still moving,” wrote Eliot of this spiritual purification, “Into another intensity/For a further union, a deeper communion.” And then we will recognize more deeply this truth, which concludes “East Coker”: “In my end is my beginning.”

(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the December 7, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

44 posted on 12/04/2011 6:04:45 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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