The season of Advent turns our thoughts towards Christmas with words from the earliest gospel St. Mark. Mark tells us nothing of the birth of Jesus, no shepherds, no wise men, no genealogy and certainly no lofty language of St. John’s gospel, “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was God”. But Mark’s first words must not be underestimated. He gave great thought to how he would begin to explain why God had become a man. He opens his gospel with the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “I am sending a messenger to prepare for the way of the Lord”. The arrival in the world of the Messiah was not a last minute event but had been anticipated from the earliest days of God’s dealing with his people. From Abraham, Moses and more dramatically by the great prophets of Israel, who seeing how incomplete and struggling humanity was, generation after generation, needed a way to raise itself to the full potential. This could only happen by direct access to the divine life. The other three gospels make the same point in other ways, namely that the coming of Jesus Christ had long been anticipated, before he ever appeared on the banks of the river Jordan.
By starting with John the Baptist, Mark is emphasising another crucial point contained in the proclamation, “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” and “receive a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. This goes to the heart of the matter. Why does humanity need a saviour? This is like asking an alcoholic, why they need to cut out booze which is killing them! Any pastor or parent knows that we humans are particularly blind to our own personal problems. Our power for self delusion is chronic at every level. The power of deceit and lies is especially at large today. In the midst of a pandemic there are countless individuals making a fortune out of the misfortune and misery of others. To make a change these cataracts blind the heart and soul of us all and must be removed. However a change of life can only be possible when self deceit is cleared away, and that is the point of repentance.
The author of this gospel was only too aware that not everyone who encountered Jesus would stay with him, some would follow but fall away and some would become his accusers. The most important part of preparing for Christ was and still is, recognition of the need to escape from the human predicament each one of us faces. John the Baptist, was able to see who Jesus really was saying “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. John the last of the prophets knew that humanity continues to shun the ways of God, “we wander from your ways, we are unclean men, we are like withered leaves” said Isaiah. In other words, when left to our own devices we so easily go off the rails. The Apostle Peter asked “what kind of humanity ought we to be”? To this question the passage for this week points the way of hope out of our struggling existence because there is one who demonstrates the way of change and because He is the divine Son bestows the power to make this happen.
Fr. Geoffrey Neal