Reflection for December 6, 2020
Reflection on the Gospel: 2nd Sunday of Advent Year B
-Veronica Lawson RSM
The first verse of Mark’s gospel evokes the opening words of Genesis and thus situates the saving presence of Jesus the Christ in relation to the creation of earth and of all earth beings. The whole of Mark’s story of Jesus is presented as a beginning. It is the beginning of a faith journey into which the listener/reader is invited. In some manuscripts of the Greek text, there are only five words in this verse, seven in other manuscripts, and twelve in our English translation. The term gospel (euangelion) means good news. It referred originally to the news of victory delivered by a messenger, usually in time of war. The good news in this context is about Jesus, a name meaning “Yahweh saves”. The reader learns that this Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One of God, Israel’s longed for Messiah. The actors within the story have to discover this truth as the drama unfolds. The two additional words present Jesus as “son of God”, as one having the characteristics of God.
John the Baptizer is identified as the messenger who proclaims the need to prepare the way for the arrival of a new Presence in our world. Mark creates the impression that something big is happening here. John draws massive crowds from city and country alike. They come to him in the wilderness, the home of the other-than-human, home to diverse forms of life. At a metaphorical level, wilderness recalls Israel’s experience in the Sinai desert. It is the place of testing and of new beginnings for God’s people, the place of God’s coming or God’s “advent” to Israel. Jesus will be impelled by the Spirit into the wilderness where he will pass the tests that the people Israel failed.
This reading invites us to prepare for God’s advent or coming by ritualising metanoia (usually translated as “repentance”), and thus being ready for the one who comes. The translation “repentance” does not convey the nuances of the Greek term metanoia which literally means a “change of mind” and suggests an “expansion of horizons”. God’s advent demands a new mindset that will predispose us to receive the gift of God’s forgiveness and to be open to feel the pain of earth as well as the pain of those rendered poor.
Mark’s depiction of John evokes the image of the prophet Elijah in 2 Kings 8 and the “hairy mantle” of the prophet in Zechariah 13:4. John is a prophet who, like the prophets of old, calls God’s people to reconsider where they stand in relation to God. He is also the one who heralds the advent of the “stronger” one who will baptize “with the Holy Spirit”. And yet there is nothing in the subsequent narrative about Jesus baptizing. As we reflect attentively on Mark’s gospel during this liturgical year, we might ask ourselves what it means to “baptize” with the Holy Spirit and what it means to follow one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.