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Second Sunday of Advent (B)
Is 40:1-5, 9-11;
2 Pt 3:8-14;
Today’s readings remind us that the past, present and future coming of Jesus in the world are the fulfilment of the saving plan of God. In the first reading, Isaiah consoles the Jews in exile in Babylon, giving them Yahweh’s assurance that their 60 years of Babylonian captivity will end soon and that they will be going home as free people. He assures them that they will be brought back to Israel by the power of God.
Isaiah wants the people to consider their return journey as their second Exodus, with Yahweh once more their loving Father and faithful Shepherd. Even though their dismaying situation was the result of their unfaithfulness to God, God in His marvellous love has forgiven them. They must also enter into new relationship with Yahweh.
God first accomplished the salvation proclaimed by Isaiah by leading the exiles back from Babylon. However, on a deeper level these promises were actualized in the coming of Jesus. The words of Isaiah about the “voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths,’” were a prediction of John the Baptist. He was calling upon people to prepare for the coming of the Lord. And the Lord was Jesus who brought about true liberation from the bondage of sin for all people. It is because of this deeper meaning of the prophet’s words that this reading has been chosen for Advent.
The second reading gives an answer to those who ridiculed at the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ, explaining that God’s way of reckoning time is different from ours and that God has His own reasons for delaying Christ’s second coming. Peter gives us the assurance that Jesus is sure to come again although we do not know when. Hence, while we wait, we should be leading lives of holiness and godliness.
Finally, the Gospel tells us that the restoration of the fallen world has already begun, starting with the arrival of John the Baptist, the messenger and forerunner of the Messiah. John speaks of one, more powerful than he – Jesus Christ – who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit. Each of us has received the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and now we live in the Spirit each day, waiting for the return of our Lord. Thus, we become John the Baptist’s successors, preparing for Christ’s return which will bring a new and perfect world.
Repent and return to the Lord – the priorities set by John: There are two traditions from which John’s baptism could be derived: One is the ritual washings by which people cleansed themselves of spiritual impurity. Ritual bathing was especially important in the Qumran community with which John may have had some connection. The other tradition is proselyte baptism of Gentile converts to Judaism; an initiatory cleansing rite performed by immersion. It seems likely that John borrows from both traditions (ritual washings and proselyte baptism) but establishes his own baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John recommended a baptism of repentance in the river Jordan to the Jews who were familiar with ritual and symbolic washings (Lev.11-15).
The Jews insisted that when a male Gentile became a Jew, he had to do three things: i) accept circumcision as the mark of the covenant people; ii) offer sacrifice because he stood in need of atonement, and iii) undergo baptism by immersion in water, which symbolized his cleansing from all pollution.
The most amazing thing about John’s baptism was that he, a Jew, was asking fellow-Jews to submit to that which only a Gentile was supposed to need. John was convinced of the truth that even the chosen people needed true repentance and renewal of life to receive their long-awaited Messiah. We tend to think of repentance as feeling guilty about our sins, but it is more—much more. The Greek word, metanoia, means a change of mind or direction. It is related to the Hebrew word tesubah, used by prophets to call Israel to abandon its sinful ways and to return to God. Both words (metanoia and tesubah) imply “a total change of spiritual direction.”
The baptism of a Gentile was accompanied by a confession made to three different recipients as a sign of repentance for sin. (i) A man must make confession to himself because the first step in repentance is to admit his sin to himself. (ii) He must make confession to those whom he has wronged. This involves humiliation and is a test of real repentance since there can be no forgiveness without humiliation. (iii) He must make confession to God because it is when a man says, “I have sinned,” that God gets the chance to say, “I forgive.”
John’s message calls us also to confront and confess our sins; to turn away from them in sincere repentance; to receive God’s forgiveness; and most importantly, to look to Jesus. Do we need to receive God’s forgiveness? There are basically two reasons why we fail to receive forgiveness. The first is that we fail to repent, and the second is that we fail to forgive. Jesus was very explicit about this second failure in Matthew 6:14-15. He says, “For if you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
Is there someone we need to forgive today? Let us not allow what others have done destroy our life. We can’t be forgiven unless we forgive. Let us let go of that bitterness and allow God to work healing in our life. Perhaps we need to draw closer to Him. Like the prodigal son’s father, God will run to meet us. He will throw His arms around us and He will forgive us and restore us. He will receive us as His sons and daughters. Let us draw close to Him today, and He will draw close to us.