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Meditation on the Second Sunday of Advent – Year B

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.

Second Sunday of Advent – Year B

First Reading: Is 40:1-5,9-11

‘Console my people, console them’
says your God.
‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem
and call to her
that her time of service is ended,
that her sin is atoned for,
that she has received from the hand of the Lord
double punishment for all her crimes.’
A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness
a way for the Lord.
Make a straight highway for our God
across the desert.
Let every valley be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
let every cliff become a plain,
and the ridges a valley;
then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
and all mankind shall see it;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
Go up on a high mountain,
joyful messenger to Zion.
Shout with a loud voice,
joyful messenger to Jerusalem.
Shout without fear,
say to the towns of Judah,
‘Here is your God.’
Here is the Lord coming with power,
his arm subduing all things to him.
The prize of his victory is with him,
his trophies all go before him.
He is like a shepherd feeding his flock,
gathering lambs in his arms,
holding them against his breast
and leading to their rest the mother ewes.

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 84:9-14. R. v.8

R. Let us see, O Lord, your mercy
and give us your saving help.

I will hear what the Lord God has to say,
a voice that speaks of peace,
peace for his people.
His help is near for those who fear him
and his glory will dwell in our land. R.

Mercy and faithfulness have met;
justice and peace have embraced.
Faithfulness shall spring from the earth
and justice look down from heaven. R.

The Lord will make us prosper
and our earth shall yield its fruit.
Justice shall march before him
and peace shall follow his steps. R.

2 Peter 3:8‑14

There is one thing, my friends, that you must never forget: that with the Lord, ‘a day’ can mean a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not being slow to carry out his promises, as anybody else might be called slow; but he is being patient with you all, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to change his ways. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and fall apart, the earth and all that it contains will
be burnt up.

Since everything is coming to an end like this, you should be living holy and saintly lives while you wait and long for the Day of God to come, when the sky will dissolve in flames and the elements melt in the heat. What we are waiting for is what he promised: the new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home. So then, my friends, while you are waiting, do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace.

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah:

Look, I am going to send my messenger before you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight,

and so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. John wore a garment of camelskin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey. In the course of his preaching he said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.

Reflection

In my beginning is my end.”

The line in the heading above 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 orientated towards all that is heavenly and everlasting, Advent is especially focused on the end of our earthly lives.

And, just as Eliot indicates, 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 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 baptised you with water; he will baptise 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 (Jos 3). The Messiah, John indicates, 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 P 3:13). But this end is already present in the beginning. In the words of Eliot in “East Coker”, “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,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “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 recognise more deeply this truth, which concludes “East Coker”: “In my end is my beginning.”

Prayerfully discover the meaning of Christmas:

Prepare the Way of the LordPrayerfully discover the meaning of Christmas with this collection of meditations on the Scriptures and prayers of the Advent season. Reflecting upon the Sunday Gospels, Carl E Olson highlights their depth and helps us to apply the Scriptures to our own lives.

Olson continues this Advent meditation by offering a line-by-line contemplation on the Hail Mary, illuminating the significance of each word so as to deepen our experience of this integral prayer. By praying the Hail Mary mindfully, we discover how to walk through Advent with Mary, ready to welcome her Son at Christmas.

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