Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent

Dec. 7, 2014 - Shared Homily Starter (see note)

First Reading Isaiah 40:1-5,6-8, 9-11
Second Reading 2 Peter 3:8-14
Gospel Mark 1:1-8

Every Sunday during the Lord's prayer, I say the words, “protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Although it's hard to be hopeful with all that's going on in the world, Advent is our liturgical season of joyful hope. Today's second reading tells us that we are to wait for the fulfillment of God's promise for “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Isaiah tells us, that “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” and Mark's gospel suggests that John the Baptist is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” So Advent is also a wilderness time, a time where we too, prepare the way for the Christ to be born again in us.

For the Jews and early Christians, wilderness was a favourite place for great expectations. Wilderness was a reminder and a symbol of the expectation for a repeat of great miracles like the parting of the Sea and manna from heaven. The wilderness was also the favourite place for preparing for new acts of liberation. John the Baptist begins his work of preparation in the wilderness. Later, we see that Jesus undergoes his testing in the wilderness before setting out to spread the good news. The wilderness is the entranceway to hope.

St. Mark has John the Baptist eating what the wilderness provides, locusts and honey. By this, the Evangelist is really reminding us of the age-old tensions between living by farming and building settlements on one hand and living simply by hunting and gathering the food that nature provides on the other. In today's terms, we are called to consider the very serious question of whether the globalized values of international city dwellers are not only marginalizing the rural peoples but threatening the well-being of the planet and all its inhabitants.

When someone deliberately returned to the wilderness to live off the land, that act was a challange to the lifestyle chosen by others. John's behaviour was a challenge, a call to repentance. It is a call to examine our lifestyle choices. Throughout Israel's history, the alternative lifestyle called people back to a sense of God in the natural world and to a way of trust that inevitably sought to live with the land not against it.

Jesus called for the same repentance as John. But, Jesus carried the confrontation into the settled areas of Galilee by living the lifestyle he followed and invited his followers to share this lifestyle. They were to live simply. By calling many to abandon wealth, land, and family, Jesus was subverting traditional values and calling for a radical reassessment of priorities. At one level his challenge could bring dislocation but at another it invited a new and different relationship to land and to people. Jesus' vision of God's reign included a right relationship with creation, a synergy such as we find in today's Gospel.

The lifestyle confrontation that the good news brings is an opportunity for us to be part of the good news for the Earth and all creation. We can't all move to the actual wilderness hunting and gathering but we can all simplify our lives and most of all, slow down. Advent is a time to take the opportunity to enter into our own wilderness spaces and prepare the way for the Godseed within us to flourish; a wildernes place where we prepare and wait in joyful hope for Jesus to be born again in our hearts, so that by our actions, we participate in fulfilling God's promise of a renewed earth, where justice is at home.

I conclude with this question: Jesus had John the Baptist to “cry out in the wilderness” and “prepare the way.” Who in your life has played this role? Who has paved the way for you in your journeys?

NOTE: This homily leans heavily on the work: Loader, William. “Good News—for the Earth? Reflections on Mark 1:1-15” in Habel, Norman C., and Vicky Balabanski (eds.). The Earth Story in the New Testament. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002

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