Advent Sunday 2 B: John the Baptist: Prepare the Way

A school principal called the house of one of his teachers to find out why he was not in school. He was greeted by a small child who whisper: “Hello?”

“Is your Daddy home?” asked the principal.
“Yes,” answered the whispering child.
“May I talk with him?” the man asked.
“No,” replied the small voice.
“Is your Mommy there?” he asked.
“Yes,” came the answer.
“May I talk with her?”
Again the small voice whispered, “No.”
“All right,” said the man, “Is there any one there besides you?”
“Yes,” whispered the child, “A policeman.”
“A policeman? Now, may I speak with the policeman?”
“No, he's busy,” whispered the child..
“Busy doing what?” asked the principal.
“Talking to Daddy and Mommy and the fireman,” came the child’s answer.
“The fireman? Has there been a fire in the house or something?” asked the worried man.
“No,” whispered the child.
“Then what are the police and fireman doing there?”
Still whispering, the young voice replied with a soft giggle,“They are looking for me.”

It would be pretty hard for the “rescuers” to find this child as long as the child keeps hiding from them. In today’s gospel we see John the Baptist in the desert calling out to the people of Judea to come out into the open desert and let God find them. You can liken it to the fireman calling out to the ”lost” child. The child has to leave his hiding place and come out into the open for the fireman to find him. (Fr. Munachi)

 Gospel Text : Mark 1:1-8
Michel DeVerteuil 
General Comments
On this Sunday and the next, the Church gives us John the Baptist as the model of the prophet calling people to move from the wilderness or place of despair to a state of hopeful and trusting expectation. He himself was someone who knew how to wait.
2nd adventLike last week’s, this reading is from St Mark’s gospel; it should be read in sections. Omit verse 1 which is an introduction to the entire gospel of St Mark rather than to this part of it.
In verses 2 and 3 you can focus on the fact that the story of John the Baptist was already written in the book of Isaiah, or you can look at the content of the verses. The first two lines are from Malachi, and the pronouns must be interpreted correctly: they are saying that when God is about to come into the life of a person or a community he always sends a messenger to prepare the way for him. In the next part of the prophecy be sure to interpret correctly the meaning of “cries in the wilderness” which means that God’s prophets always announce confidently to those who are in the wilderness that they must not despair, but rather act as if God’s grace will come to them at any moment.
Textual Comments
john the bVerses 4 and 5 summarise the mission of John the Baptist who touches a community or nation so that the people commit themselves to a renewed life, recognising their former sins.
Verse 6 speaks of the Baptist’s simple lifestyle, in sharp contrast to the extraordinary success of his preaching in the previous verses.
In verses 7 and 8 we get a glimpse of the humility of John the Baptist, a model of waiting. John may have said these words at a time of triumph, showing that he did not let success go to his head, or when he was feeling frustrated and knew he must be content to wait for God’s moment of grace.
Scriptural Prayer Reflection
Lord, we celebrate today our conversion experiences:
– we turned away from drink or something else that was destroying us;
– we took up our courage after a bout of depression;
– we moved from self-centeredness to a life of service.
We remember with deep gratitude the messenger you sent before you
who was to prepare your way:
a sermon, a friend, one of our children, an illness.
At the time, we were in a wilderness, drifting aimlessly, not going anywhere.
then, as it is written in the books of the prophets,
a voice cried out in our wilderness
that we were not destined to remain forever,
that we could expect a moment of grace.

Lord, we thank you for our John the Baptists:
– a Life in the Spirit seminar;
– a national leader;
– a new parish priest or a new principal of our school.
The whole community, all Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem,
we made our way to him,
we let ourselves be baptised in the river Jordan,
recognising how we had become lazy, self-satisfied and grasping,
and we put the past behind us.
We pray for those who have given their lives to making society more just
and who at this moment find themselves becoming bitter and resentful,
and are tempted to violence.
Keep them humble like John the Baptist.
Remind them that it is your sacred work they are doing,
that they are unworthy servants,
not fit to kneel down and undo the straps of your sandals.
If they feel they are not achieving much, you are following them;
if they feel powerless, you are more powerful.
They baptise with water, but you will baptise with the Holy Spirit.
John the BLord, we thank you that in many countries today
your church is bringing hope to the lowly,
so that once again John the Baptist can cry out good news
to those in the wilderness:
– those who have failed so often that they have given up hope of bettering themselves;
– those who have been written off as unemployable;
– those who are being deprived of the minimum resources necessary for survival,
announcing to them that they need not despair, but can be full of hope
because they will now experience that you are in their midst
and they are free, creative members of the human family.
Lord, we are anxious that all Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem
should make their way out to us and be baptised,
but we think it can be done through money or earthly power,
forgetting that your prophets wear a garment of camel skin
and live on locusts and wild honey.
Lord, there are many in our country who have lost hope.
Say to all what you have said to us Christians –
that we must not despair but must stay awake.
 Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration
Today we move along our Advent journey towards our celebration of the Son of God entering our world, our humanity, and our community. On this Advent journey, our memory this Sunday concentrates on the figure of St John the Baptist: he went before the Lord and prepared his way and made his path straight. He is our model as witnesses to Jesus the Christ: we have to create a path for Jesus to enter our world and we have to remove the obstacles we place, both as a community and as individuals, to his being recognised in our world today.
Homily Notes
1. When we read Mark’s presentation of the ministry of John the Baptist we are confronted with his role as the one who preached ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’. The immediate thought may be to take this as a cue for preaching the need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or the need for individual confession. This has been a very common reading of the Baptist’s cry and has the effect of making Advent and Lent seem very similar in many places. However, this approach fails to do justice to the kerygma and obscures our understanding of the nature of the preparation Mark understood John to have carried out; and that preparation is a central part of the work of the gospel for Mark. So avoid in the homily any linking of this text with individual sacramental reconciliation or using it as a cue to draw attention to a Reconciliation Service that is scheduled for Advent.
new shared life2. The key element in John the Baptist’s preaching was the preparation of a new people, a distinct community, the Israel of the last times of the Day of the Lord’s [judgement]. This was not an individualist cleaning out of sins, each putting his or her house in order; but encouraging people to join a new society that would be able to withstand the coming judgement because of the purity of its observance of how the People of God should behave and live as a group. The event that marked one as a member of this new People, new group, was to be baptised by John. His baptism marked the border between being a member of the old community now destined for punishment because of its unfaithfulness to the Law (i.e. sin) and the new community that observed the Law with purity such that it could survive the Day of Lord. The important point to remember is that salvation is corporate, the forgiveness is corporate and the new way of living is corporate. We should think of John’s baptism as being more like the day novices enter a monastery, thus beginning a new community life, rather than in terms of individual ‘confession’. Or more metaphorically, it is all rowing in a lifeboat together rather than having individual lifebelts.
3. Jesus takes over from John the message of the new community of the Last Times, the New Israel with its twelve new foundation members: the Twelve. But unlike John, this new Israel is not the group that can survive the wrathful judgement, but the new People who can keep the Law in spirit and truth and who can rejoice because the Father loves them.
4. By contrast with the picture of the new People that is defined by Jesus’s baptism, i.e. our baptism, John’s community is but a forerunner, a foretaste, a dry run.
people of god.1jpg5. To welcome Jesus we must become the new community, the new People of God, the new Israel, the holy royal, priestly people of our baptism. This is the call of today’s gospel. But this means a whole new vision of what it is to be a Christian, and abandoning any notion that Christianity is a religion system for individuals or a salvation system for individuals.
6. So what actions is the community taking this year to help it realise its calling to be the new community that is ‘in Christ’?
• Has it any plans for a more perfect liturgical gathering?
In many places people still sit at the Eucharist using the individualist model of ‘getting Mass’: can people actually gather around the table so that it is clear that they are not just getting something but are at the Lord’s banquet?
• Has it any plans to have a programme of prayer which unites it in spirit when it is dispersed?
The early Christians offered united prayer by all praying at the same times each day and fasting on fixed days. More recently Christians were united by the Angelus at fixed times. Can the community’s members agree to say the Our Father at a fixed time each day so that they are uniting in prayer even if not physically in the same place?
• Has the community any plan to grow in knowledge and awareness?
Is there any plan to have a group that will study who we are as Christians or study how best to celebrate Christmas? Are there any ways of witnessing to the Christ and his message in the world in which we live?
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle Dedication Mass• Has the community any plans to re-dedicate itself as a People, the new people, the people who are welcoming the Son of God into their midst? And, how would it do this? This act of rededication of the community could be an Advent reconciliation service, but if so then it has to have the community dimension foremost rather than the individual confession-absolution agenda.
• Has the community plans to act collectively to ease suffering, poverty, and injustice in our world?
There is need to ‘get organised’ so that as a community we are making a difference and we are acting in a new way as a new people. You cannot be the New People if the group is still behaving in its way of life in the old way of injustice and exploitation. This new way of acting is essential if we are to be the people of the Christ, but it is not a substitute for renewing the liturgy, having a plan of prayer, and having an awareness of the need to fast as a community.
How will the community express its joyfulness and thankfulness for what it is? Will there be other opportunities to show that being a people is not just a collection of individuals, but being part of a society, a living entity? What activities can we engage in that will act as a glue between us and help us overcome the fragmentation that is such a part of modern western post-industrial living?
7. Advent poses us hard questions. Questions much harder to answer and do something about than those linked with the individualist notion of God-and-me that is inherent in’going to confession’. ‘Preparing a people’ is far harder task for the president of a community than many hours sitting in the
.Getting there together
    It means getting there together
Sean Goan
Gospel notes
The consoling words of the first reading are read again in the gospel. Only this time the way being prepared is not the return journey from exile in Babylon but the path to our hearts as John the Baptist calls the people to repentance in preparation for the arrival of Jesus. Like one of the Old Testament prophets, John is radical in his commitment to his calling and the description of him as wearing camel skin clothing and eating locusts and wild honey echoes the portrayal of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8. In the first century there were a variety of views as to how God would act on behalf of his people. Many hoped for dramatic intervention and stunning military victories, but John’s focus was on their need to repent, in other words to change their worldview and to live accordingly. In this way they would leave themselves open to what God would do through Jesus who, though more powerful than John, would come among them as a servant.
The call to repentance lies at the heart of the Advent season. Like the people of John’s time we too long for a better world and a time when suffering will cease. However, such a change will not come by the waving of a divine magic wand. It will come when we prepare ourselves for it, when we open our minds and hearts to the gift that is offered to us at Christmas. It is not a call for sentimentality about the child in the manger, it a radical call to change and that is never easy. That is why Advent is such an appropriate time to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. There we encounter the all-embracing love of God who never ceases to offer us new life and hope and who empowers us to be his instruments for change in a world torn apart by selfishness and greed. What better way could there be to prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness of our hearts?
Donal Neary SJ
Weeks of Mercy

There’s a family expectancy on the air about Christmas, people looking forward to the celebration just now. Even if we dread bits of Christmas, and many do, we know that there is something very good about it.  We look forward to it, as we look forward to the visit of someone we love, or a holiday afterwards, or the break from work.
The people at Jesus’ time were like that – looking forward to the ‘one who is to come’.  It would all take time, and the last of the messengers was John the Baptist.  His mother would await his birth  with huge expectation.
He preached forgiveness. This is one of the special gifts of God, and one of the big celebrations of Advent.  We are a forgiven people, and we welcome the forgiveness of God in our repentance.  This means we are firstly grateful for forgiveness, that we do not have to carry forever the burden of sin, meanness and our faults and failings. God covers them over in mercy.  The second step of welcoming forgiveness is to try to do better in life – to move on from this sinfulness and meanness to a life of care, compassion, love and joy.  It is a call and a challenge to forgive others.
Advent is not complete without some admission of sin and our need for mercy. The parish celebrations of the sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation) in common or individually is step which makes our celebration of Christmas complete.
From The Connections:
John’s brief appearance in Mark’s Gospel begins a new era in the history of salvation.  Mark’s details about John’s appearance recall the austere dress of the great prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1: 8).  The Jews believed that Elijah would return from heaven to announce the long-awaited restoration of Israel as God’s kingdom.  For Mark and the synoptics, this expectation is fulfilled in John the Baptizer.  In the Baptizer’s proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah, the age of the prophets is fulfilled and the age of the Messiah begins.  John’s baptism with water is an act of hope and expectation in the Messiah's baptism in the very Spirit and life of God.

Each one of us is called to be a prophet of Christ.  The word prophet comes from the Greek word meaning “one who proclaims.”  Not all prophets wear camel skins and eat locusts – there are prophets among us right now who proclaim in their ministries, in their compassion and their kindness, in their courageous commitment to what is right that Jesus the Messiah has come.
Every Advent, John the Baptizer calls us to embrace the meaning of our own baptisms: compassion, forgiveness, justice, selflessness. 

As an “Advent people,” we are caught (like the Israelites returning to Jerusalem – Reading 1) between a world that is dying and, at the same time, a world waiting to be reborn.  The work of Advent is to bring about that rebirth: to prepare a world that is ready for the Lord's coming.
In the baptismal call to become prophets of the God who comes, we are to do the work of transforming the wastelands around us into harvests of justice and forgiveness, to create highways for our God to enter and re-create our world in charity and peace.

The work of the Baptizer
‘Tis the busy season for Santa Claus and Kris Kringle.
We are all working very hard to be Santa for those we love — or to be good enough for Santa to come down our chimney this Christmas with that perfect gift.
We may be someone’s Kris Kringle or “secret Santa” this Christmas:  We may have chosen a member of our family or classmate or fellow worker for whom we will try to make this Christmas a little more special and happy.

Being Santa or Kris Kringle can be hard but fulfilling work; we can receive as much as we give in our Santa-playing.

But every Advent our Gospel readings center on this strange, austere, humorless character John the Baptizer.  The John of the Gospel is no one’s idea of Christmas joy: subsisting on locusts and wild honey, clad in camel hair, haunting a wild river bank.  We happily take on the role of Kris Kringle, but no way do we see ourselves as John the Baptizer.
But that is exactly who Advent calls us to be.  In our own baptisms we promised to become Baptizers along our own Jordan Rivers.  So let’s take on the work of the “Baptizer” this Christmas; let’s become heralds like John as we go about our holiday preparations:  May we give the gifts of “comfort” and joy . . . may every kindness and generosity we extend this Christmas mirror Christ’s presence in our midst . . . may we joyfully take on the hard work of creating a highway through the rugged lands of estrangement and alienation . . . may the gifts and greetings and hospitality we extend proclaim the good news that God’s compassion has dawned.

Every Advent, John the Baptizer calls us to embrace the meaning of our own baptisms: compassion, forgiveness, justice, selflessness.  This Christmas, let us take up John’s Advent work: to straighten the crooked roads of our lives, to transform ‘deserts’ barren of love into places of welcome and reconciliation, to gather up the lost and forgotten, to proclaim the coming of God’s Christ in our midst.  

1.     Fr. James Gilhooly   

A theologian had a painting of the crucifixion in his study. It showed John the Baptist with a long bony finger pointing to Jesus. One day a visitor asked, "What is your job?" The theologian walked over to the painting and said, "I am that finger." Do our lives point people to Christ? Or do they turn them away from Him? Before you answer, remember what Gandhi said, "I would have become a Christian if ever I had met one." 

2.     Fr. Jude Botelho 

Dear Friend,

We are used to announcements that inform us that something is going to happen or someone expected is arriving. At railway stations and airports we hear announcements of the arrival of a train or plane that we are awaiting. If there is someone whom we love arriving, that announcement fills us with joy and we get all excited because we will soon see the one we are waiting for. The good news given to us is that God is coming soon. Do we believe it? Do we look forward to his arrival?

Are we prepared to welcome Him? Have an expectant, exciting weekend, looking ahead! 


In the first reading the prophet Isaiah assures the people that the period of harsh discipline is over and God will come with forgiveness for his people. "Console my people, console them." says your God. He will lead them back to their homeland and the difficulties along the way will disappear as God himself will journey back with his people. The Israelites are asked to prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Therefore they should not wait for things to happen but should be active and vigorous in preparing for the coming of the Lord. The preparation is not an external preparation but a preparation of the heart and a removal of anything that does not fit in with God's coming. 

When Jesus Enters

 A working man was strongly drawn towards a beautiful vase he saw in a stall in the town market. He bought the vase and brought it home. The vase was so beautiful that it made the front room look drab, dull and indeed plain ugly. So he got bright prints and transformed the whole room. He got colourful curtains to match the paint, a brightly patterned carpet, and even stripped down and varnished furniture. Because of the beauty of the vase, the whole room was totally transformed. -When Jesus enters my heart, the areas in need of attention become, oh, so obvious. -Holiness consists in discovering that I am a much bigger sinner than I ever thought I was! The closer I come to God, the more obvious the contrast!

Jack McArdle in '150 More Stories for Preachers and Teachers' 

 In today's Gospel Mark highlights the example of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the coming of the Lord. His role was to be the messenger announcing the coming of the Messiah. He would be the voice crying out in the wilderness, "Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight." His message was one of repentance, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He invited everyone to change and repent and experience a conversion of heart. John's preaching and personal life witness had a dynamic impact on the people. They came forth in large numbers to be baptized by him and they showed readiness to change their lifestyle and come back to the Lord. What does it mean to prepare a way for the coming of the Lord today? Where do we seek God and where will we find him? 

Light in the Darkness

 A man went out for a walk on a cold but bright winter's morning. The sun had just come up and was scattering light into the four corners of the sky. As he walked along he noticed that the moon too was in the sky. But it was so pale compared to the sun that it was barely visible. An hour or so ago it was a bright and beautiful creature and dominated the sky. Now it looked like a beggar, and had been pushed in the background. It was like a candle made redundant by electric lights. But as the man looked at it, it suddenly occurred to him that it was this ragged creature whose faithful light had seen people through the darkness of the night. -The moon reminds us of the Old Testament prophets, and perhaps especially of John the Baptist. The prophets had kept alive the hopes of the people during the long night of expectation, when it seemed that the dawn would never come. It was thanks to them that the flame never went out. John worked hard to bring his own light to the people. For a while he dominated the scene. But he was always conscious that a greater light was coming. When that light appeared in the person of Jesus, John knew that his task was done. He pointed out Jesus and he stepped aside and allowed Jesus to shine.

Flor McCarthy in 'New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies' 

To find God

 "Vladimir Ghika was a Romanian prince who became a catholic priest and died a martyr in a Communist concentration camp in 1954. His words are particularly apt today as we begin our own odyssey in a new wilderness: "He who does not seek God everywhere runs the risk of not finding him anywhere." The good news of this advice, as St. Bernard and other mystics remind us, is that "No one can seek you O Lord, who has not already found you." Or as St. Gregory of Nyssa put it: "To find God one must search for him without end." Not only will we come to experience the truth of this timely paradox, but we will discover that God does indeed let himself be sought and found in every historical era, even in those great axial ruptures in history such as ours. Our new spirituality will remind and reassure us that God is still Emmanuel, that is, still very much "with us" in the wilderness."

Richard Cote

Waiting to be a Saint

 Graham Greene's protagonist in the 'Power and the Glory' is the hero or non-hero really, a seedy, alcoholic catholic priest who, after months as a fugitive, is finally caught by the revolutionary Mexican government and condemned to be shot. On the evening before his execution, the priest sits in his cell with a flask of brandy to keep his courage up, and he thinks back over what seems to him the dingy failure of his life. Greene writes: Tears poured down his face. He was not at that moment afraid of damnation -even the fear of pain was in the background. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him at that moment that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would have needed a little restraint, and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at the appointed place. He knew now that, at the end, there was only one thing that counted -to be a saint. -To be a saint I suggest is to learn how we walk, and talk to Mary our mother during these advent days. She is a woman who knew how to become a saint. She waited and waited for nine long months for the quiet life within her to become the Savior, the long-desired Christ. Like her, we have to wait for God to help us become saints.

William Bausch in '40 More Seasonal Homilies' 

Prepare for the Service of God

 Martin Buber tells the story about a rabbi's disciple who begged his master to teach him how to prepare his soul for the service of God. The holy man told him to go to Rabbi Abraham, who at the time, was still an innkeeper. The disciple did as instructed and lived in the inn for several weeks without observing any vestige of holiness in the innkeeper, who, from Morning Prayer till night devoted himself to affairs of his business. Finally the disciple approached him and asked him what he did all day. "My most important occupation" said Rabbi Abraham, "is to clean the dishes properly, so that not the slightest trace of food is left, and to clean and dry the pots and pans, so that they do not rust." When the disciple returned home and reported to his rabbi what he had seen and heard, the rabbi said to him, "Now you know the answer about how to prepare your soul for the service of God." The way to reach God is by doing everything wholeheartedly and genuinely; everything (and every act) is full of God's holiness -so treat it accordingly with dignity and respect.

Brian Cavanaugh in 'Sower's Seeds of Christian Family Values' 


 It was a hot Sunday in June and millions of Americans were watching the U.S. Golf Open on TV. At a critical point in the play, the camera focused on John Nicklaus. He was in the rough and preparing to shoot out. Slowly and deliberately he addressed the ball. Then for a full 20 seconds of prime time TV, he stood poised and ready to swing. Suddenly at the last moment he backed away from the ball and said aloud for everybody to hear, "That's the wrong swing." The sports commentator covering the match was confused and said, "But he didn't swing! What's going on here?" A lot was going on. And Nicklaus explains exactly what it was in his book 'Golf My Way', in which he describes how he prepares for every shot he takes. It is a process called mental rehearsal. This simply means that he plays every shot in his imagination before he plays it for real. Nicklaus writes: "It is like a colour movie. First I 'see' the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes and I 'see' the ball going there, even its behaviour on landing. Then there's a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality." What Jack Nicklaus was doing on that hot Sunday afternoon in the U.S. Golf Open is what the Church is asking us to do during the season of Advent. The Church asks us to go through a kind of mental rehearsal to prepare for the coming of Christ, his final coming at the end of time.

Mark Link

 Letting God Find Us

 A school principal called the house of one of his teachers to find out why he was not at school. He was greeted by a small child who whispered: "Hello?" "Is your Daddy at home?" asked the principal. "Yes" answered the whispering child. "May I talk to him?" the principal asked. "No," replied the small voice. "Is your Mommy there?" the principal asked. "Yes," came the answer.  "May I talk with her?" Again the small voice whispered, "No." "All right," said the principal, "Is there anyone besides you?" "Yes," whispered the child, "A policeman." "A policeman? Now may I speak with the policeman?" "No, he is busy," whispered the child. "Busy with what?" asked the principal. "Talking to Daddy and Mommy and the fireman," came the child's answer. "The fireman? Has there been a fire in the house or something?" asked the principal. "No," whispered the child. "Then what are the policeman and the fireman doing there?" Still whispering, the young voice replied with a soft giggle, "They are looking for me." It would be pretty hard for the 'rescuers' to find the child as long as the child keeps hiding from them. -In today's Gospel we see John the Baptist calling out to the people of Judea to come out into the open space and let God find them. You can liken John the Baptist’s call to the fireman calling to the 'lost' child. The child has to leave his hiding place and come out into the open for the policeman to find him.

John Pichappilly in 'The Table of the Word' 

 Forget Him!

There is an interesting and thought-provoking incident from Lawrence of Arabia. While crossing the desert in a blinding sandstorm, Lawrence suddenly noticed that one of his group had been mistakenly left behind. Turning to the group, he asked, "Where is Jasmine?" "Forget him," said one of the leaders, "not only is he sick, but he is worthless!" Without batting an eyelid, the valiant leader turned back in search of his lost companion, even at the risk of his own life, and would not rest content until Jasmine had been traced and re-united to the group. Lawrence's refusal to abandon the lost Jasmine is indeed a striking image of God's unfailing and unwavering concern for us all. This image is echoed by the Word of God today: "For God so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life." Said Bob Goddard: "Be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in life you have been all of these."

James Valladares in 'Your words, O Lord, Are Spirit, and They are Life' 

 May we be always prepared and actively waiting to find and be found by God!!

 3.     From Fr. Tony Kadavil 

A Tale of Repentance.  

Not too many years ago, newspapers carried the story of Al Johnson, a Kansas man who repented of his sins and chose Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. What made his story so remarkable was the fact that, as a result of his newfound faith in Christ, he confessed to a bank robbery he had participated in when he was nineteen years old. Because of the statute of limitations, Johnson could not be prosecuted for the offense. But because of his complete and total change of heart, he not only confessed his crime but voluntarily repaid his share of the stolen money! That’s repentance – metanoia -- the radical change of heart demanded by John the Baptist in today’s gospel. 

Coming home for Christmas:

In December 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their "flying machine" off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: "We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas." Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, "How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas." He totally missed the big news – man had flown! Many of us are thrilled at the gifts, food and festivities of the holiday season, ignoring the fact that Christ’s birth is the true reason for this “holiday season,” and that these are HOLY DAYS intended to give Jesus a homecoming by bringing him into our hearts and daily lives.  

Homecoming in “Roots.”

Homecoming is featured in Alex Haley’s epic saga of an American family, “Roots.” “Chicken George”, son of Kizzy and grandson of the family’s African patriarch, Kunta Kinte, had been sold by his master to a member of the English gentry who used the man’s skills at training cocks to fight. George had been promised that, after a few years in Europe, he’d be able to return home to his family, as a free man. But, as with many such promises, years passed before it was fulfilled. When at last George did return, his coming home had significance for all his family. This would indeed be a new beginning. Now a free man, George had the capability of buying the freedom of his aged wife, grown sons, their wives and his grandchildren. Though their aged and furrowed faces bore a visible record of years of want and struggle, their eyes burned with an unmistakable determination to keep their family together and to keep alive the traditions of their ancestral African people. Those same eyes brimmed with tears of joy at the thought of leaving their slave quarters and of finally coming home, to a plot of land bought by Chicken George in Tennessee. On this second Sunday of Advent, each of the selections from scripture would also have us consider the notion of coming home – Babylonian exiles coming home, shalom or perfect peace coming home   and Jesus the Savior coming home into our lives. 

Trailblazer successors of John the Baptists:

"In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Columbus was a trailblazer who dared to believe that it was possible to reach the East Indies by sailing west across a vast uncharted ocean. Yet, even with the odds stacked against him, Columbus sailed with his flotilla of three ships. His eventual discovery of the New World blazed a path that many have followed. About eighty years later Nicholas Copernicus, a Polish priest and amateur astronomer, initiated another revolution. His observations of the heavens convinced him that the theory of Ptolemy (ca. 150 BC, an Egyptian mathematician and astronomer), that the earth was the center of the universe, was wrong and that the sun was the center of the solar system with the earth one of many heavenly bodies which rotated around it. This heliocentric theory was not supported by church as it was not the description in the Bible.  Thus, Copernicus was forced to wait until the year of his death to publish his work. In 1803, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out on an expedition that led to the opening of the West in the United States.  Lewis and Clark, in their famous three-year journey by boat and on foot, blazed a trail for countless pioneers who later went west in search of land, fortune, and fame. Christiaan Barnard, a South African physician and surgeon, had conducted many experiments with human hearts, especially the replacement of valves. But on December 3, 1967, he performed the first heart transplant. The patient lived only eighteen days, but it was a start. His second transplant patient survived over a year and a half. Barnard was the trailblazer for modern heart surgery. Today the transplantation of a human heart is so commonplace that when it happens it receives not one word in the local paper or on the evening news. Columbus, Copernicus, Lewis and Clark, and Christiaan Barnard were all trailblazers. They had the courage to prepare a path that others could follow, a route that in each case brought the world to a better and more advanced state. On this second Sunday of Advent we hear John the Baptist, in our Gospel Reading, blazing a special path, as he prepared the way of the Lord. We are asked to do the same for our brothers and sisters. 

“Come home for your dear Daddy's sake.”

Ian Maclaren once told a delightful story of Lackland Campbell and his daughter Dora. Dora left home and fell into the wrong kind of relationships. She began to misuse the gifts of life. Soon she did not respond to her father's letters because she found it difficult to relate to him. Maggie, Dora's aunt, wrote her a letter that finally melted her heart. At the end of the letter Maggie writes: "Dora, your Daddy is a grievin' ye. Come home for your own sake. Come home for your dear Daddy's sake. But, Dora, come home most of all for the dear Lord's sake!" [ Lloyd John Oglivie. The Cup of Wonder (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1976).] Christmas is a time of coming home. John the Baptist's message was simple: "Repent," turn your life around, change your mind, examine your motives, because the Messiah will be here soon. This brings us to the final theme of today's text. 

“Empty your cup”:

In the Zen tradition of the Far East there is a story about a professor who went to visit the great master Nan-In one day. “Master,” he said, “teach me what I need to know to have a happy life. I have studied the sacred scriptures, I have visited the greatest teachers in the land, but I have not found the answer. Please teach me the way.” At this point Nan-In served tea to his guest.  He poured his visitor's cup full and then kept on pouring and pouring so that the tea began to run over the rim of the cup and across the table, and still he poured, until tea was cascading upon the floor. The professor watched this until he could not longer restrain himself.  "It’s overfull! Stop! No more will go in!" he cried out. "Like this cup", Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you the way unless you first empty your cup?" Let us empty our hearts of all the unnecessary and harmful stuff during these Advent weeks, clean it with tears of repentance and confession of sins, allow it to be filled with God and keep Him the center of our lives during Christmas and every day of the New Year.   

Conversion of IRA bomber:

For 300 years the people in Ireland have lived in the past. For 350 years, really, all they have done is remember the past, taking revenge on one another.  But slowly, one by one, on both sides, people began to repent, to look, not to the past, but to the future. One of the first to do so was a man named Shane O'Doherty. He was the first former IRA member to come out publicly for peace. Twenty years ago he was sent to jail for mailing letter bombs. At his trial as a terrorist for the IRA, he had to sit and listen to people tell what it was like to open those letters. Fourteen people testified against him, all innocent victims, many of them mutilated because of what he had done. He said it was sitting in that court, face to face with people who had been harmed by his actions that his conversion began. But it was completed in prison, in his cell, as he was reading scripture. First he experienced Jesus' love for him. Then he experienced Jesus' requirement of him. He knew he had to change. When he got out of prison, O'Doherty started to talk about building a new future in Ireland, instead of just repeating the past. He found that his life was now being threatened by his former colleagues. But he continued to do it, because, he said, "I believe that one person is able to make a difference just by talking about peace, just by making his witness. It begins in any nation, in any community, with one person, then another, and then another, saying, ‘I'm going to accept the future that God is giving to us, rather than simply repeating the past.’" Every year in Advent they are there, both John and Jesus, saying, "Repent; for the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom is at hand." God is offering us a new future. Let us choose it, turn away from the past, accept what God is offering us. 

“Why don’t you fix the clock’s inner parts?”

A man once owned a large and expensive clock crafted in Switzerland. He kept the clock in a window, where it was seen by passersby who set their watches by it. But something was wrong with the clock. Its hands habitually showed the wrong time. So the man spent considerable energy every day in turning the clock’s hands to the right positions. This went on for several years, which kept the owner weary. One day someone suggested, “Instead of wasting your energy in correcting the hands, why don’t you fix the clock’s inner parts?” “What a tremendous idea!” the owner exclaimed in astonishment and delight. “I never thought of that!” [Vernon Howard. Inspire Yourself (Grants Pass, OR: Four Star Books, Inc., 1975).] God did not intend to make a few cosmetic changes by sending Christ into the world. God intended nothing less than to change the whole dynamic of human character. That’s why each Advent we encounter this strange character, John the Baptist, with his call to repentance. 

"The University Has Been Waiting 250 Years for Us. “

At the 250th anniversary of the founding of Harvard University, the students marched in a torchlight procession. The most memorable group was the Freshman Class, one month old, which emerged with a gigantic banner reading, "The University Has Been Waiting 250 Years for Us." The New Testament presents Jesus Christ and exclaims that all the ages have been waiting for His arrival, that all history has been preparing for His coming. 

Prepare the way:

Culturally, Alexander the Great had spread the Greek language over most of the civilized world three centuries earlier. It was then established as the international language by which the gospel could be communicated. Governmentally, the Romans furnished a system of law which made it possible for the gospel to grow in relative stability. Logistically, the system of Roman roads made travel by missionaries very possible. (Ernest White.) Do you suppose that as Alexander was extending his empire, he had any idea that God was using him to prepare the way for the Babe of Bethlehem? Do you suppose that as the Romans built the roads that made commerce possible over all the known world, that they was preparing the way for the King of Kings? When Augustus Caesar sent out his decree that all the world should be taxed and that every person should be enrolled in his own city, do you suppose that he had any idea that he was engaged in bringing to pass an ancient prophecy that the Messiah should be born in Bethlehem? By the time John cried out in the wilderness his prophetic, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight," God had already been at work for thousands of years bringing about just the right conditions for the birth of his Son. Then, in the fullness of time, Christ was born. 

“I have never felt remorse."

In September of 1985, convicted killer Theodore Streleski was released from prison after having served seven years for the hammer-slaying of a Stanford University professor. He had been a model prisoner in many ways. On three occasions prior to his release, he had been offered parole, but each time he rejected it because he was unwilling to accept its conditions. One condition was that he express some remorse for his crime and promise never to kill again. But Streleski said, "I do not feel remorse. I have never felt remorse." (The Bellevue (Ohio) Gazette, Sept. 9, 1985, p. 1) Repentance is important. Confession is important. Obviously, when we confess our sins we are not giving God any information God doesn't already have. But we are getting our souls in position where we can accept God's forgiveness 

Missing figure in the nativity scene:

A three-year-old was helping his mother unpack their nativity set. He announced each piece as he removed its tissue paper wrappings. “Here’s the donkey!” he said. “Here’s a king and a camel!” When he finally got to the tiny infant lying in a manger he proclaimed, “Here’s baby Jesus in his car seat!” Well, it wasn’t a car seat, but that would be an easy mistake to make, wouldn’t it? We all love nativity scenes. Baby Jesus in the manger . . . Mary and Joseph hovering reverently over the holy child . . . shepherds, wise men, assorted cattle, sheep and camels . . . and, of course, a donkey. But, as someone has noted, there is always one person missing from these nativity scenes. Have you ever seen John the Baptist in any of the nativity scenes? Louder than any Santa says, ‘Ho, ho, ho,’ you would hear the automated voice of John the Baptist screaming, ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Has anyone noticed a figure like that in any of the nativity scenes that are traditional to our celebration of Christmas?”

( ) Well, no. At least, I’ve never seen a nativity scene featuring John the Baptist. Yet, on the second Sunday of Advent, we always encounter this strange lonely figure sounding his message out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord.” 

"Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth".

A popular paperback says "Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth" (Hal Lindsey and C.C. Carlson, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972) spite of the fact that Jesus said precisely the opposite. (See Luke 10:18) The Ayatollah Khomeini refers to America as "The Great Satan" and then does things that seem to earn the title for himself. He calls us "Satan," and we are quick to return the compliment. Everybody seems to know more about Satan than I do. I once heard of a minister in Chicago who preached three sermons on the Devil. His titles were: "Who the Devil he is; What the Devil he does, and how the Devil he does it." Today’s readings challenge us to know more about Jesus and his triple home coming to earth.   

"What are swaddling clothes?"

A 6-year-old little girl, missing a front tooth, emerged from her Sunday school class with a grin on her face, a piece of candy and a new pencil in her hands. "Guess what?" she said to Mom, "I was the best listener today. I won the prize!" "That’s wonderful," Mom replied. "How did you win?" "Miss Lynda read a story about baby Jesus then asked what Mary wrapped the baby Jesus in when she laid him in the manger." "Well, what did Mary wrap him in?" "Swaddling clothes," came the quick reply. "What are swaddling clothes?" Mom asked. "I don't know," she admitted, shrugging her shoulders. "I guess they're what ducks wear." (Childress, Modesto, California in Christian Herald). Sometimes we treat Christmas like that; we know the answers, we know the story but we don't know the meaning behind those answers. 

Jesus was born up at the North Pole: 

In a Family Circus cartoon, the little girl sits her baby brother on her lap and tells him the story of Christmas. According to her version: Jesus was born just in time for Christmas up at the North Pole surrounded by eight tiny reindeer and the Virgin Mary. Then Santa Claus showed up with lots of toys and stuff and some swaddling clothes. The three Wise men and elves all sang carols while the Little Drummer Boy and Scrooge helped Joseph trim the tree. In the meantime, Frosty the Snowman saw this star. We can appreciate her confusion. There is a lot to learn about Christmas. Who does the teaching in your home? 

“Fake Jeep?" 

Christmas shopping, though fun, can be difficult. Did you hear about the guy that bought his wife a beautiful diamond ring for Christmas? A friend of his said, "I thought she wanted one of those sporty 4-Wheel drive vehicles." "She did," he replied. "But where am I gonna find a fake Jeep?"   

4.     From 

Mark 1:1-8 - "Prepare the Way"
Mark 1:1-8 - "The Four Scents of Adventing"  

His name was John. People knew him locally as the Baptist. Some would say of him that he was a religious eccentric. Others less kind would dismiss him as being simply a flake. He definitely did not seem to be the kind of "How to win friends and influence people" type of personality to usher in the news of the Messiah's coming. He just somehow doesn't seem to fit in with shepherds and wise men and the other characters that we traditionally associate with the Christmas story. Yet, this was God's unlikely servant chosen to herald the spectacular events that would soon follow. A most unlikely promotions man to be sure, but God's man nevertheless.

From the very beginning everything about John was unique. His mother Elizabeth was related to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Elizabeth conceived six months before Mary. But Mary happened to be a very young girl, indeed almost a child. Most scholars put her probable age at thirteen. It was not unusual for a girl in that day and time to be of childbearing age at such a tender age. Indeed, it is not unheard of even in contemporary America.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, was a woman who was in the golden years of her life. She had never given birth to a child. You would think of her more in the category of great grandmother than mother. Yet, she and her aging priest of a husband were the unlikely candidates. It's not out of the question today with recent advances in medicine, but beg the grandmother's here today, don't take this as a word from the Lord!

And then there was John himself. Being the same age as Jesus they grow up together, played together, yet as they reached adulthood they were different in so many ways. When John began his ministry he lived in the desert solitude of Judea, a rugged desert wilderness. He fed on honey and wild locust and dressed in garments of camel hair. He constantly brooded over the scriptures, especially the prophetic ministry of Elijah, after whom he modeled his own ministry.

Nor was John a respecter of persons or rank. He had an intimidating personality. For that reason the upper class folk rejected both he and his message. You can read about that in Luke 7:29.

Yet, John gathered a respectable following. He attracted many hearers among the lower class, many of whom received baptism by his hands. John even drew a group of disciples around him, which is significant for two reasons. First, some of these disciples later became disciples of our Lord. Secondly, a number of people began to think of John himself as being the long expected Messiah. For that reason John's gospel felt obliged to specifically point out "There was a man sent from God whose name was John, He came for testimony to bear witness to the light that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to bear witness to the light.

What drew people to John and his message? Well, John was far-fetched. His austere life style was a compelling reason to listen to him and perhaps his strange ways convinced some people to follow him. I think many thought he was Elijah the prophet who returned. But there was more to John than simply a bizarre strange life. John understood that God was about to do something that would shake the foundations of the earth and he needed to prepare the way for that event. He did this in basically three ways... 

1. John lived a godly life.
2. John challenged the people's sins.
3. John pointed the way to Christ.
A traditional accounting of the number of "senses" the human body registers is five: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. We now know there are between 9 and 21 actual senses, depending on who's counting. But still there are five main ones, and two biggies in the five: sight and sound.  

Even those of us with poor vision and tin ears still rely heavily on sight and sound to get around. Taste and touch are less obviously used, but absolutely necessary. Our sense of touch keeps us from absent-mindedly leaning on a red hot burner or petting a puppy with the disposition of a boxer. Sight, sound, touch, taste -- they are the four senses that give us crucial information and safely connect us to our environment. 

Of all the senses, whether in the top 5 or all 21, the sense of smell usually gets short shrift. Mostly we notice its presence when we wish we didn't have it. When we are cleaning out the diaper pail. Or giving the skunk-adorned dog a bath. Or driving home the eighth-grade basketball team.

 For most of us the first thought we have about our sense of smell is . . . it stinks. Nasty odors tighten our stomachs and ruin our days. But our sense of smell offers us a lot more than obnoxious odors. Olfactory memories are among the most personal and poignant our brain can produce. Not just those sweat socks that send you back to your junior high locker room. Not just that foul stench that lets you know the milk has gone bad. There are a thousand other smells filed away in our minds and hearts and souls that trigger deep responses.

Cooking show chefs are always bemoaning the fact that there is no such thing as "smell-o-vision." All restaurants that advertize on tv would agree. "Foodies" know that the single most attractive, addictive sense is that of smell.

We just finished getting rid of the Thanksgiving leftovers and, by the time we've made turkey sandwiches, turkey casserole, and turkey soup, we realize this thing is just an overgrown chicken. So why do we bother with it?

It's the smell. Turkeys have to cook for along time. They torture us with their smell for hours on end. Same thing goes with good barbecue. Or a big old pot roast. The smell entices and entrances over hours of cooking.

There are distinctive aromas that are attached to Advent...
A Friend and a Savior 

William Saroyan has a delightful story that he tells of the poor, little orphan boy standing amidst a long line of men and women queued up in the front of a movie house. A friend passed and asked: "Why are you standing here? You haven't got the fifty cents admission charge."

"I'm not going to the movies," the boy replied.
"Then why are you standing in line?" asked the friend.
"I'm standing in line," answered the boy, "because I'm lonely, and I like people." Christ came into this lonely world as a friend as well as a Savior. Why can't you and I enter someone's loneliness this Christmas?
A John the Baptist Christmas Card 

I love receiving Christmas cards. I especially like Christmas cards with good Christian artwork on the cover. The lion with the lamb; the three wise men and the message, "Wise Men Still Seek Him;" the Madonna and child; or the star piercing the darkness over stable and manger; all are beautiful depictions of the Christmas story. Again, I am positive that as a group we have all perused thousands of Christmas cards like these. Yet I do not recall ever receiving one with John the Baptist preaching in the desert. Do you? I can picture it in my mind: a card front marred by the dead, barren wilderness of Judea out by the Jordan River, with this animated, prophetic figure as the focal point. But I have never read one that even closely resembles such a scene. Have you?

John the Baptist is totally inappropriate for the way we celebrate Christmas. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus as Matthew and Luke report that holy night many years ago. Mary, Joseph, angels, manger, shepherds, wise men; a child is born unto us. Glory to God in the highest! That is what Christmas is all about. Jesus is the reason for the season. So we honor sweet, little Jesus boy, get warm fuzzies, and hug our family members. What does John the Baptist have do with Christmas?

For Mark, everything. Instead of Bethlehem and choirs of angels, he begins the story of Jesus' coming with a prophet blaring and baptizing in the wilderness of Judea. In so doing, he adds a new figure to the good news about the incarnation and coming of the Christ. It is John the Baptist. Throughout the centuries the church has recognized Mark's unique contribution through its observance of Advent in preparation for the celebration of Christmas.
Humble Beginnings 

I am told that in Minnesota you can step across the headwaters of the Mississippi River. It is no more than a tiny stream. It is amazing to me that a river so mighty can begin in such an inconspicuous way.

Perhaps we have a similar experience as we read the first chapter to the Gospel of Mark. The message of Christ has raised up nations and brought them low, launched and defeated armies, started large social movements and destroyed others. Think of all that has been done in the name of Jesus Christ and how inconspicuously the Gospel begins according to Mark. Here we find none of the thunderous poetry used by John to describe the pre-existent Christ. We dream no dreams and no angels visit with us. Caesar Augustus and Herod seem pretty far away. No excuse here for Christmas trees or mob-ridden malls or long hours putting together services of lessons and carols--thank God! All Mark offers to us is John the Baptist, Martha Stewart's worst nightmare, smelling like a camel and calling people to change their ways.
May Christ Be Born In You 

Sue Monk Kidd, in one of her books, recalls her youth and how she would prepare for Christmas. In early December, she would sit by the wooden nativity set clustered under their Christmas tree and think over the last year of her life. She would think deeply about Christmas and the coming of Jesus.

She remembers, one time, visiting a monastery. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas. As she passed a monk walking outside, she greeted him with, "Merry Christmas." The monk's response caught her off guard a bit. "May Christ be born in you," he replied.

His words seemed strange and peculiar at the time. What did he mean, "May Christ be born in you?" At the time she was unsure of what he meant, but now all these years later, sitting beside the Christmas tree, she felt the impact of his words. She discovered that Advent is a time of spiritual preparation. It is also a time of transformation. It is "discovering our soul and letting Christ be born from the waiting heart."
Break Free From the Scrooge Syndrome

Each year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, a great number of people find delight in the marvelous story written by Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. There is something in the story that lures us back to it year after year; we never seem to grow tired of hearing its message. The main character in the story is a surly old man named Scrooge, who lives a miserly existence. He sees no benefit in being generous with the poor, or even providing a living wage to dedicated workers. He clutches onto his money and despises the thought of parting with any of it. But it is not only his money that Scrooge withholds from others, it is his entire being. He withholds love and kindness, he withholds warmth and friendship. Then, one night, Scrooge undergoes a profound crisis. He sees himself through the eyes of others. He has a vivid vision of his past; and then his present. But what is most frightful to him - what shakes him to the core of his being - is when he is granted the opportunity of a lifetime. He is allowed to witness his future. But his future proves to be so dark and frightening, that it prompts within him a dramatic change. He undergoes a radical transformation and becomes an entirely new person. Rather than being cold and indifferent to people, he becomes generous and compassionate.

It is a heart-warming story. But more than that, it is a hopeful story. It provides us with the hope that we too can make needed changes in our lives. We can break free from the ruts we have burrowed, and the negative behaviors we have cultivated. We can become kind and compassionate, humble and hospitable, joyful and generous.

I have never read anything which suggests this, but I wonder if the story of John the Baptist influenced Dickens and served as an impetus in his creation of A Christmas Carol?
True repentance is to cease from sin.
Ambrose of Milan

When a man undertakes to repent toward his fellowmen, it is repenting straight up a precipice; when he repents toward law, it is repenting into the crocodile's jaws; when he repents toward public sentiment, it is throwing himself into a thicket of brambles and thorns; but when he repents toward God, he repents toward all love and delicacy. God receives the soul as the sea the bather, to return it again, purer and whiter than he took it.

True repentance hates the sin, and not merely the penalty; and it hates the sin most of all because it has discovered and felt God's love.
Recognizing our Need to Repent 

One critic said he had gone to many churches and heard the preacher say, "Don't try to impress God with your works" or "Don't attempt to please God with your merits" or "Don't try to keep the rules and regulations and thus win your way." He looked around at nearly slumbering collections of utterly casual Christians and wondered, "Who's trying?"
Recognizing our Need to Repent 

There is so much noise in the world today. There are so many voices competing for our attention. If you want to be heard, you almost have to shout.

I have read that during a typical lunch hour at the University of California at Berkeley, spokesmen for a dozen different causes can be found on the plaza, trying to outshoot one another. One day a lone figure sat down defiantly in the middle of the crowd and held up a sign which said, "SILENT PROTEST." Someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked, "What are you protesting?" The defiant figure held up another sign which said simply, "NOISE."

That experience reminds me of the Salvation Army lassie who was informed by a policeman that a local ordinance would prevent her from ringing her bells to invite contributions. But such a crude law could not stop such an inventive woman. The next day she did a brisker business than ever as she waved one sign and then another in the air.