Year B: Second Sunday of Advent

The Preaching of John the Baptist

Mark 1: 1-8

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God].  As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I, is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Mark was alerting his readers that he was reading the signs of the times in the light of their religious tradition. How have you interpreted the events of this past year “the signs of our times” in light of our religious tradition? What are you being invited to?
  2. If God is active in history through the ministry of Jesus, and through baptism with us in the Spirit, how is the Spirit becoming active in you as a believer? What are those actions?
  3. Sin is understood as any thought, deed, or disposition that breaks the flow of life between God and the self, as well as between the self and other people. What is it that blocks your readiness to receive God’s life or revelation? How can your frustrations and dissatisfaction be a pathway for new repentance this Advent?
  4. During this past year we have found ourselves living in times of estrangement on many fronts. What does it mean to you, to be converted to Christ and to live according to God’s heart during our time?  How do you go about it?

Biblical Context

Margret Nutting Ralph

Mark 1: 1-8

Today we read the very beginning of the Gospel according to Mark “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” From this opening sentence it is evident that Mark is not writing from the point of view of someone describing events as they occur, as someone who is keeping a diary would describe them. Rather, Mark already knows the end of the story. He has a post resurrection point of view. We know this because Mark refers to Jesus as “the Son of God.” This is a post resurrection insight.

Mark does not teach that Jesus is the Son of God by telling us the story of Jesus’ conception, as do Matthew and Luke. Mark has no infancy narrative. Rather, Mark begins with John the Baptist and his announcement that “one mightier than I is coming after me.” When we read Mark’s Gospel it is very helpful to remember Mark’s point of view. We will understand a great deal more of the Gospel if we keep in mind that Mark and the reading audience know who Jesus is: the Son of God. The other characters in the story, including Jesus’ apostles, do not comprehend Jesus’ true identity until after the resurrection.

Mark next says, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet.” Mark is following a tradition of some four hundred years when he turns to the words of the prophets to explain the significance of recent events. During the time when the Israelites had a king and a kingdom, they also had prophets (1020 BC-450 BC). The prophets’ role was to call everyone, including the king, to fidelity to their covenant relationship with God. When the nation ceased to exist, so did the prophets. From that time on, when the people wanted to hear God’s voice they would turn to the words of the law and the words of the prophets and apply these words to their present situation. In doing this they were reinterpreting the words.

Although Mark says he is turning to Isaiah, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet…” the words that follow are a compilation of Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1, and Isaiah 40:3. In Exodus a messenger of the Lord, an angel, is sent to lead the people out of the desert. In Malachi a messenger who will precede the coming of the Lord and who will call the people to repentance is promised. In Isaiah, as we will see when we discuss today’s Lectionary reading from Isaiah, the hoped-for return of the exiles from Babylon is jubilantly described. Mark combines these texts to describe John the Baptist’s role scribed. Mark combines these texts to describe John the Baptist’s role in relation to Jesus:

Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;

he will prepare your way.

A voice of one crying out in the desert:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight his paths.”                                        

As John calls people to repentance, he is “clothed in camel’s hair. With a leather belt around his waist.” This is an allusion to Elijah, who is described as “wearing a hairy garment… with a leather girdle about his loins” (2 Kgs 1:8), and who was expected to return, “before the day of the Lord comes (Mal 3:23).

In all four Gospels John the Baptist gives a powerful witness to Jesus. Here John says, “One mightier than I, is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” This makes it clear that any disciple of John should become a disciple of Jesus, for John’s baptism of repentance is a baptism with water. Jesus baptism will be a baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Christ Loved and Awaited


St. Oscar Romero

Christ is now in history.

Christ is in the womb of the people.

Christ is now bringing about the new heavens and the new earth.

Christ became a man of his people and of his time:

He lived as a Jew,

he worked as a laborer of Nazareth,

and since then, he continues to become incarnate in everyone.

If many have distanced themselves from the church,

it is precisely because the church has somewhat

estranged itself from humanity.

But a church that can feel as its own all that is human

and wants to incarnate the pain, the hope,

the affliction of all who suffer and feel joy,

such a church will be Christ loved and awaited,

Christ present.

And that depends on us.

The Christian knows that Christ has been working

in humanity for twenty centuries

and that the person that is converted to Christ

is the new human being that society needs

to organize a world according to God’s heart.

Advent should admonish us to discover

in each brother or sister that we greet,

in each friend whose hand we shake,

in each beggar who asks for bread,

in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union,

in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves, the face of Christ.

Then it would not be possible to rob them,

to cheat them, to deny them their rights.

They are Christ,

and whatever is done to them

Christ will take as done to himself.

This is what Advent is:

Christ living among us.

St. Oscar Romero, adapted from The Violence of Love

Oscar Romero (1917–1980) became archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. A prophetic voice of the poor, he was martyred at the altar while saying Mass. Romero was canonized in 2018.