Second Sunday of Advent, Year B

By Benedictine Father Paul Nord


Second Sunday of Advent, Year B

First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Response: Psalm 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14; Second Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-14; Gospel: Mark 1:1-8

These opening verses of Isaiah 40 begin a new section of prophecy, in which God promises to comfort his people. The people of Jerusalem have been suffering at the hands of foreign peoples. The prophet clearly marks this “word of God,” as God assures his people that the time has ended in which they must suffer the consequences of their sins. This is the role of the prophet – to make God’s word known to the people. Here it is a word of hope.

“A voice cries out” marks a further explanation of that hope. The imagery here is rich: “the desert,” “every valley,” “every mountain and hill,” “the rugged land,” “the rough country.” Each image is transformed in some way. The essential message is that every part of this world will be transformed by God’s coming to his people. “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” promises that God will reveal himself again to his people, as he restores his relationship with them.

Next are parallel phrases: “Zion, herald…” and “Jerusalem, herald….” This parallelism emphasizes the message by saying it twice: “cry out” and “Fear not to cry out!” What should be announced so boldly? “Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God!” The imagery here emphasizes the power of God’s coming: “his strong arm.” But the imagery changes suddenly to emphasize, instead, God’s loving care for his people: “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock.” This speaks of God’s closeness to his people, who are compared to lambs and ewes. God’s coming promises an intimacy with his people, whom he carries “in his arms” and “in his bosom.”

In our second reading, from 2nd Peter, the letter seeks to reassure those early Christians who were disappointed that Christ had not yet returned (the parousia). This is explained by emphasizing that God’s sense of time is different from ours. Further, God has a good reason for the “delay” of Christ’s return – God is patiently providing the opportunity for as many people as possible to repent and be saved. Verses 9 and 13 emphasize God’s promise of “new heavens and a new earth.” God’s promise should motivate us to conduct ourselves “in holiness and devotion” (v.11). This is so that on “the day of the Lord/God” we may “be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace” (v.14).

Patience and vigilance are the emphasized themes. God is patient with us, and so we also should be patient with God’s plan for our redemption. So, also, we must be vigilant to be ready for Christ’s coming, whenever that might happen. This need for vigilance is expressed by: “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (v.10). This is the same image used by St. Paul in 1st Thessalonians 5:2. “The day of the Lord” describes Christ’s second coming. Paul says that Thessalonians “know very well” that the day of the Lord will “come like a thief.” Clearly, this imagery was used widely in the early Christian community. Thus, in Revelation 3:3 and 16:15, Christ alerts his faithful ones that he will come “like a thief.” Likewise, Matthew 24:42-44 compares “the day your Lord is coming” to a thief breaking into a house. The message is clear: “be ready” for Christ’s return! This is an essential Advent message. Every Advent, we renew our vigilance as we eagerly await Christ’s return.

Our Gospel is the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel. The first verse speaks of “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” which is literally “good news.” This “good news” describes the entirety of Jesus’ words and actions. Mark’s Gospel begins with its central message – that Jesus is “the Son of God.” One irony of Mark’s gospel is that Jesus is recognized as “the Son of God” by unclean spirits (Mark 3:11 and 5:7) and by a Roman centurion at the crucifixion (Mark 15:39). By contrast, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is rejected by many.

Next, Mark immediately describes the prophetic actions of John the Baptist. Mark invokes the prophetic words of Isaiah to explain these prophetic actions. (These words credited to Isaiah are also drawn partly from Exodus 23:20 and Malachy 3:1). John is “proclaiming a baptism of repentance.” This provokes a huge response as “all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River.” These actions show that the people have a deep hunger for God to act in a decisive way in their world. John is prophesying God’s coming action. His action of baptizing emphasizes that the people need to prepare for God’s coming through repentance from sin. The people eagerly respond.

John’s actions “prepare the way of the Lord,” as Mark explains by quoting Isaiah. John’s actions prepare the people for a far greater action by God. John says: “One mightier than I is coming after me… I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” The text makes a strong contrast between John’s preparatory actions versus the actions of the mighty one who will follow John. He foretells that Jesus will baptize “with the Holy Spirit.” The action of God’s Spirit is a clear indication that a new age is arriving – “the kingdom of God” is arriving.

Benedictine Father Paul Nord is a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, and teaches at Saint Meinrad Seminary. His Sunday Scripture columns are © Father Paul Nord, O.S.B.