First Reading: from the prophet Isaiah: Is 40:1-5, 9-11.
This is poetry, full of beautiful language and vivid imagery. In the historical situation of disaster and hopelessness during the Exile, the poet-prophet gives rein to his confident hope that once again God will come to the rescue of the people. There will be a new and even more remarkable Exodus; this time, not a wandering in the desert but a joyful, triumphant procession along a royal road.
It is enriching to listen to the passage as coming from its own situation and time; to hear what it is actually saying rather than to let our minds ‘short circuit’ and jump immediately to John the Baptist. If we are paying attention to the imagery we will notice the startling ‘leap’ in the closing lines. A very powerful victorious conqueror, riding in triumph showing off his booty and captives as sign of his victory, suddenly becomes a tender and compassionate shepherd: ‘gathering the lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast, and leading to their rest the mother ewes’. Our God and our Messiah is both!
Gospel. Mark 1: 1-8
Mark announces the subject of his work as ‘the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God’. He takes the title ‘the Good News’ from the passage in Isaiah, and gives us his favourite titles for Jesus, ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ which tell us exactly who he is. Jesus IS the Good News. If what we hear and preach is not truly Good News bringing life and joy, peace and hope to the hearers, it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist is one of the great Advent figures, honoured for his special role and because Jesus honoured him. It is believed that Jesus himself was for a time a disciple of John, but John pointed beyond himself to the One greater than he, and we too have to move on from John to Jesus. John and Jesus have something very important in common. Both come from the desert, not from the Temple; from the prophetic not the priestly tradition. But they are also very different. John is an ascetic and preaches moral repentance. Jesus was criticized for not being ascetic and he was never a moralist but a mystic. He preached a radical ‘turning around’ of our way of seeing and of being. And he goes further by enabling us to change by giving us the Holy Spirit When we put a high value on asceticism and great emphasis on morally acceptable behaviour are we following John rather than Jesus? And possibly missing the true Good News?
Sr. Genevieve Mooney OP