By Bishop David McGough
Second Sunday of Advent Isaiah 40:1-5 & 9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8 6 c onsole my people, console them. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended, that her sin is atoned for."
The familiar words of the prophet Isaiah opened a new chapter in the life of a broken people. It is almost impossible for us to imagine the feelings that they addressed in God's people. The confident promise of Israel's early kingdom had come to an end. Corruption had undermined Israel's civil and religious institutions. The land had been subjected to foreign rule. The temple lay in ruins, its destruction mocking Israel's impoverished faith. The very few that survived lived out a meaningless life on alien soil. Historically speaking, Israel had reached her lowest ebb. When it seemed that hope itself had died God spoke to his people: "Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain laid low..."
In different ways we can experience life as a wilderness, a weariness that can so easily deaden and isolate the spirit. We must confess that our own sin contributes to this wilderness. The short-term promise of self-indulgence leaves us unsatisfied and disillusioned. A longing for God that once gave direction to our lives grows cold. The temptation is to resign ourselves to an impassable indifference.
The prophet spoke to the heart of Jerusalem. Individually, and as a Church, we must allow God to speak to hearts that are frequently afraid, that have been undermined by the sins of the past, that have become aliens in a society that knows little of faith. Sin distorts our hope, converting our transgressions into insurmountable failure, our shame into deepest guilt. These are the mountains and valleys addressed by God's Word. "Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind shall see it." Advent calls us to an almost reckless hope, allows us to believe that God can rebuild what sin has destroyed.
John the Baptised proclaimed Jesus as the fulfilment of Isaiah's promise. His first call was to repentance, a change of heart and mind. Let us allow John to disturb the complacency with which we so easily resign our world to what we have become. Repentance is more than sorrow for past sin. It is the firm conviction that Christ's coming has changed this world and continues to change our lives. John the Baptist did not expect to change the world. His hope was built on firmer ground. "Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the holy Spirit."
Each Advent John the Baptist recalls us to the gift of Christ of our baptism. A voice has already spoken into our wilderness. No mountain, no valley, no weariness, no shame can obstruct his way.
Like John, whose desert garb and food spoke of a simple dependence on God, we must be willing to shed the many distractions that have taken us away from God. We live in troubled times. The unquestioned certainties of material growth seem less secure. Rather than seeking to buy our way out of poverty, let us respond to Advent's call and allow God to become, once again, our enduring hope.