The Second Sunday of Advent [B]
Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11 + 2 Peter 3:8-14 + Mark 1:1-8
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
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Baskin-Robbins used to advertise that they sold 31 flavors of ice cream. You could have a different flavor every day of the month! On the Baskin-Robbins website, the company states that since 1945, they’ve produced over one thousand, three hundred flavors. It’s difficult to imagine that ice cream could come in that many different forms.
During the Season of Advent, one of the virtues that the Church sets before us—both for us to reflect upon, and for us to put into action—is the virtue of humility. One of the potholes that we might fall into, however, is thinking that there’s only one form of humility: that humility looks the same within each person. It doesn’t!
The Season of Advent sets before us several models of humility. During your daily time for prayer and reflection, you might over the next few weeks consider each of these models of humility, one at a time. Each can help you meditate upon what changes you could make in your life in order to make your life look more like the lives of these models of humility.
Who are these models of humility? The four chief models of Advent humility are: St. John the Baptist, St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Obviously that order is in order of increasing humility. Yet the first of the four is first for another reason, also: because we have to begin with the example of St. John the Baptist.
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Today’s Gospel Reading focuses upon John the Baptist. This passage is the first eight verses of St. Mark’s account of the Gospel. It’s telling that St. Mark chose John the Baptist to be the first person he describes in his Gospel account. St. Mark describes John first, not Jesus, because we need John’s message in order to receive Jesus.
The message of John the Baptist is founded upon humility. Everything about John speaks to humility: from the place where he dwells—a desert—to his clothing—camel’s hair and a leather belt—to his diet of locusts and wild honey. But John’s message is even humbler than his dwelling, clothing, and diet. His message demands that those listening make themselves humble.
John’s message is a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” St. Mark the Evangelist goes on to describe this further: how people “were going out to [John the Baptist] and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.”
This act of humility—acknowledging one’s sins—is the first step to accepting the gift of Jesus. Every year about this time, you hear the saying that Jesus is “the reason for the season”. True enough. But what’s the further reason? That is to ask: why was Jesus born in Bethlehem? Why did God the Father send His only Child from Heaven down to earth?
Did God the Father send His Son to earth in order to teach? There are many world religions that recognize Jesus as a great teacher: on a par with other religious teachers such as Buddha, or Mohammed, or Confucius, they claim. But God the Father did not need to send His Son from Heaven in order to teach mankind. He’d been doing that for centuries through the prophets of the Old Testament. God the Father could have dropped down copies of the Sermon on Mount from Heaven if He had wanted to. Teaching was not the chief reason for God the Son to be born at Bethlehem.
The chief reason is summed up in a little saying: “The wood of the crib is the wood of the cross.” Or there’s another saying that expresses the same insight: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem so that he could die on Calvary.” “So that he could die.” What God the Son, as God, could not accomplish from Heaven is to die in order to wash away both your sins, and the punishment that your sins merit. That’s why if you won’t acknowledge your sins as St. John the Baptist demands, you won’t be able to accept Jesus as the gift that God the Father sent Him to be for you.
The Preaching of John the Baptist by Bartholomeus Breenbergh (1598-1657)