Reading 1: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14
Reading 2: 2 Peter 3:8-14
Gospel: Mark 1:1-8
An Advent Like No Other!
The liturgical season of Advent is one of joyful hope, a time of spiritual renewal. Each of the four weeks is meant to draw us closer to one another and into the mystery of the Incarnation, which culminates with the celebration of Christmas or the Nativity of the Lord. This year, due to Covid-19, our Advent season is like no other, and our celebrations of Christmas will surely look and feel very different. While many will forgo travels and remain shelter-in-place, now more than ever we need to hold deep onto the message of the season that God, who is Emmanuel, is still with us, comforting us in this unusual time.
In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah saw the anticipated end of Israel’s exile and foretold about their imminent return home. This is what the people of God had been waiting and longing. The prophet was commanded to give comfort to God’s people and to speak words of tenderness to them because God has heard their cry and forgiven their iniquities. God has not abandoned them in times of suffering or tragedy but remained with them to protect them like a shepherd guarding his sheep. Furthermore, Isaiah shared with his people the vision of a marvelous journey that God has prepared for their return. The wasteland would turn into a straight highway, the valleys would be filled in, the mountains would be leveled, and the rugged land would be made smooth. It would be a splendid homecoming, and the glory of God would be revealed for all to see and hear. The prophet, therefore, invited the people to proclaim loudly God’s glad tidings because the glorious day of the Lord has drawn near.
The Gospel reading continues the theme of joyful expectation and fulfilled promises. The Gospel of Mark begins with the witness of two prophetic texts from Malachi and Isaiah that announce a forerunner who will appear before the coming of God’s Messiah. This messenger will go “ahead of you” (Malachi 3:1), one who will “prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3). With these words, Mark announced that the time of anticipation and fulfillment of God’s salvation has arrived. The appearance of John the Baptizer signals that anticipated moment. John is identified as a wilderness man who was clothed with camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts with wild honey. The description of John certainly stretches our imagination. Perhaps it is not meant to draw attention to the messenger or forerunner, but to the one who is much more powerful. For Mark, that person is Jesus who is the “Christ and Son of God” (Mark 1:1), the one who is empowered by God’s Spirit to usher in God’s Reign.
The comforting words of Isaiah and the cry of John the Baptist on this second week of Advent can hold new meaning for our time as well, a renewed hope in times of great uncertainty. We surely need it now more than ever. While we wait for that day when a vaccine becomes available to put an end to this global pandemic and disruption, let us continue to make straight the way by how we live and treat one another with kindness and respect. As we continue to navigate this pandemic and other disorders, may we remember God’s tenderness and closeness in the presence of God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
God of silence and stillness, we trust you are with us in this challenging time. We pray for an end to this plague. Whisper your words of comfort, encouragement, and hope to all who need them at this time. Be present with those who are sick and all those whose health is at risk because they care for them. In your name, Emmanuel, Maranatha!
Rev. vănThanh Nguyễn, SVD
Professor of New Testament Studies
Bishop Francis X. Ford, MM, Chair of Catholic Missiology