(Cycle B)

Is. 40: 1-5, 9-11

2 Pt. 3: 8-14

Mk 1: 1-8

The consolation and mercy of God make up the central theme of today's liturgy. In the midst of affliction, of sorrow and the desperation of Israel the prophetic word resounds that announces on the part of God the end of the exile and the return to Jerusalem: a prophetic oracle, that makes manifest the constant divine will of liberating enslaved men and women. After the time of testing and expiation of the people, God makes flower in history a new beginning. The figure of John the Baptist marks also a new beginning in history. In the place of death and temptation, the desert, resounds “a voice”. It is the word of the Baptist that prepares and anticipates the arrival of the Word, an event that will mark the truly new beginning of creation and of all of humanity. John, in a certain way, synthesizes and symbolizes the hope and the aspirations of Israel and of all humanity.

The first reading (Is. 40: 1-5, 9-11) makes up the introduction to the second part of the book of Isaiah, that is constituted of chapters 40-55. These chapters are known by the name of “Second Isaiah” or “Deutero-Isaiah” (Is. 40-55), the anonymous prophet that during the time of exile aroused the hope of the people and announced their happy return to the land. The text that today is proclaimed in the liturgy, the same in all of the work of Deutero-Isaiah, ought to be situated in a period of the history of Israel marked by anxiety and incertitude, low spirits and desperation. The prophetic oracle makes resound in the midst of the ruins of the grief stricken city and without hope the foundation of the covenant between God and his people (v.1: “my people” – “your God”). The history and the dialogue between God and man have not been broken forever. God looks for someone that may carry to Jerusalem a message of life and liberation so that they will be filled with valor and trust. His voice will be heard where there is only crying and lamentation. There is a hastening to announce the end of slavery, of pain and of punishment: “Console, my people, console them, says you God. Speak to the hart of Jerusalem and cry to her that her guilt has been atoned for, that, from the hand of Yahweh she has received double punishment for all her sins” (v. 1). The mission of this prophet will be precisely “to console” the people (Is. 49: 13; 51: 3; 51: 12,19; 52: 9). The consolation of God is not a simple sentiment of mercy toward the people that suffer. When the Bible says that God is consoling his people, this means that he is intervening to transform a humiliating and sorrowful situation. In reality, if God does not console there is not a consoler. Referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, the author of the book of Lamentations exclaims about the city: “All night long she is weeping…not one remains to console her” (Lam. 1: 2). Only the Word of God can console and make live (Ps. 119: 50: “It is my comfort in distress, that your promise gives me life”). Only human words, which are inspired and modeled according to the Word of God, can be consoling to other men and women. (cf. 2 Cor. 1: 3-7). Jerusalem, symbol of the people of God, has paid greatly for her errors and infidelity. The exile and destruction has been the fruit of her iniquities. Now a message resounds that permits her to go on living: God calls again his people: “my people” and wants to console them, “feeding them, gathering them, like a shepherd his flock” (Is. 40: 11).

Continuing, the prophet speaks of a “way” that the people will have to travel. A way in the desert that will permit them to go beyond the anterior situation – of death and of sin- , a new time – of life and of hope - . God consoles but the people ought to dispose themselves to accept the gift of liberation by starting to move along this way. The beginning of a new existence is marked by a way that God and the people will have to make together, like in Exodus, where the glory of the Lord went ahead indicating to them the way to follow (Ex. 13: 21-22; 24: 26; 40: 34-35). For this reason, the prophet cries out: “Prepare a way for Yahweh (in Hebrew: derek yhwh), make a straight highway for our God” (v. 3). The most important way is not the geographical route that leads from Babylonia to Jerusalem, but the way of the spirit that the people will have to travel by to turn to God. This last mentioned is the true way that is necessary to prepare. The time to turn to the ways of God has arrived, but many times those ways do not coincide with our own (Is. 55: 10-11). This requires docility and obedience to let themselves, the people, be guided by God that proceeds and illumines us (Is. 48: 17: “I am Yahweh your God and teach you for you own good, I lead you in the way you ought to go”.) Above all, this requires that the mountains and hills of pride and of human omnipotence be abased, and that the idols gathered on the heights of the hills be destroyed (Jer. 13: 27). “then the glory of Yahweh will be revealed and all humanity will see it together” (Is. 40: 5). Precisely when men and women travel by the way of humility and of obedience in faith, they turn to contemplate the glory of God. In the exile – fruit of sin and of infidelity – the sin of Israel has been revealed, on the way back the glory of a God that saves and gives life will be revealed.

All of the text is conceived as a joyful message, like a true “Gospel”. The prophet is like a prophet placed on a mount of Jerusalem; him that has anticipated the procession of return of the exiles to present their return and the return of the Lord with them to all of the land of Israel. He ought to cry out with strength so that all may hear his message of life, salvation and victory: “Go up on a high mountain, messenger of Zion. Shout as long as you can, messenger of Zion! Shout as loud as you can, messenger of Jerusalem! Shout fearlessly, say to the towns of Judah, `Here is your God.'” (v. 9). The ruined city of the past, the city that has suffered siege and devastation, changes her destiny and prepares herself to welcome the victorious sovereign. God goes on loving his people and wants to return to them life and salvation. The same Lord in person proceeds all of the triumphal court (v. 10) and as a loving shepherd (v. 11). The words of Jeremiah are fulfilled: “He who scattered Israel is gathering him, will guard him as a shepherd guarding his flock” (Jer. 31: 10).

The second reading (2 Pt. 3: 8-14) centers all of its attention in the last and definitive intervention of God in history. The expression “day of the Lord”, taken from prophetic literature, indicates the decisive event of history when God will initiate his reign of justice and of peace in a renewed world. The apocalyptic images of destruction want to manifest the newness of the moment. Everything that seems stable and firm in history will give over to everything truly new, to “new heavens and new earth, where uprightness will be at home” (2 Pt. 3: 13). The day of the Lord is not a day of wrath, nor destruction or of ruin, but the beginning of a new creation in which the reign of God will finally arrive in its fullness.

The Gospel (Mk. 1: 1-8) of today is the beginning of the work of Mark, that wants to present to the believer the origin and foundation of the “joyful news”: the news of Jesus and Son of God (v. 1). The great theme of the Gospel of Mark, in effect, is the identity of Jesus. He tells us in the first words of the book: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. Mark wants to tell the history of Jesus, but not just like simple news in the midst of others, but as “good news”. Good news is a expression that translates the Greek word that Mark uses: “euaggelíon” (Gospel). This word indicated a orally proclaimed message. In the Greek world it referred to a joyful and consoling news, that filled with joy the person that received it, thus, that communicated a happening that could change his or her life and improve it: the victory of a king over his enemies, the enthronement of a new monarch that would bring peace, etc. For Mark there is only one Gospel: Jesus Christ. In addition, he desires to proclaim it with his writing. He is convinced that only in him, life and its meaning can be found, and only he is the true good and life-giving news for humanity. The expression “good news of Jesus”, such as that written in Greek, can mean two things. Can refer to the message of the word of Jesus, that is good news for the person that hears it; but also can be a way of speaking of Jesus himself as good news. It is almost better to prefer the second meaning of the expression. Jesus personally is the good news, as the Messiah and as Son of God, but not as a religious doctrine or as a simple theory made of titles and cold notions. It is the announcement of a happening that changes the history and life of each man or woman that opens him or herself up to him. The originality of Mark is in utilizing a “story” as a means to express the mystery of the person of Jesus.

It does not treat of an absolute initiative. The “good news” was already announced by the prophets, only that now it finds its definitive fulfillment and the meaning appears clearly of that which was proclaimed centuries before: the hoped for Messiah in Jerusalem, the Shepherd of Israel that carries his lambs in his arms, the God of the Lord that every man will be able to see, is Jesus of Nazareth. His arrival is proceeded immediately by a herald, that like the prophet of the first reading, helps the people to prepare themselves to go up to meet the Lord that comes. Mark identifies him precisely with the herald of Is. 40: 3 and with Elijah that returns, of which the prophet Malachi speaks (Mal. 3: 1). John the Baptist preaches in “the desert”, a place of decision and of testing. Gathered around him, moved by his fame, those of Judea and Jerusalem do not find an answer in him. He practices a penitential rite, a “baptism of conversion” (metanoia) (v. 4) that is expressed in the public confession of sins and that signifies reconciliation with God (v. 5). John is on the bank of the River Jordan (v. 5). The place is significant. Those that gather around him relive the way of Israel that crossed the Jordan before entering in the Promised Land. Only that now they prepare themselves, not to take possession of a land, but to receive the Lord that is about to come. The voice and gesture of John speak of another person, one that comes after him and is “stronger” (v. 7): Christ Jesus, “the strong” par excellence like God (Jer. 32: 18: “Great and Mighty God, whose name is Yahweh Sabaoth”; Dan. 9:4: “O my Lord, God great and to be feared). Before him the Baptist confesses: “I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals” (v. 7). This phrase, more than a declaration of humility in front of Jesus, is a confession of his own incapacity. The text speaks of a right that John does not possess. He prepares and purifies the spouse to make her worthy of the spouse that comes, but he does not possess the juridical power of taking possession of the spouse (Dt. 25: 5-10; Rt. 4: 7). To take off the sandal of another was, in effect, to occupy a juridical right. He is only the friend of the spouse that rejoices to hear his voice and is called to decrease so that he may increase (Jn. 3: 27-28). The Messiah, that is about to come, is the only that pour out the Spirit, giving so the beginning of a new and definitive creation (Ez. 37): I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (v. 8).

The readings of today are an invitation to discover with joy God that is about to come in Jesus Christ. In the midst of the desert of history resounds a word that calls us to that which is essential to faith, to trust and to docility in the Lord. It is necessary to start walking, it is necessary to prepare “the way of the Lord”, through the listening of the Word and by sincere conversion. It is necessary to line up at the Jordan to cross it and to get in tune with Christ that comes. Advent invites us to take up a way that coincides with the way of solidarity with those that suffer and are despised, a pilgrimage of faith and of hope that goes out announcing a new world.