Dec. 8, 1996

Second Sunday of Advent

Mark 1, 1-18

THE EVANGELIST Mark today declares: “Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” This announcement signals our entrance into the Good News—the life and saving ministry of Jesus Christ. Advent is the time for us to take up that Good News again and reconsider how central a role the truth of the Gospel must play in forming the actions of our daily life.

The keynote of our initiation into the Gospel is humility. The “straight path” we prepare to “make ready the way of the Lord” clears away all the self-centeredness, pride, ego, and ambition that clutters up our life and obstructs our relishing of the Good News.

In this effort, John the Baptizer remains our model. The Gospel's deliberate detailing of the Baptizer's peculiar diet and dress confronts us with a curious paradox. Despite John's eccentric manner, we are told that “all the Judean countryside and the people of Jerusalem went out to him in great numbers.” Something extraordinarily compelling drew the crowds out into the desert, regardless of John's peculiar ways. They must have been attracted by the integrity and conviction of his holiness, given his bizarre appearance.

John's self-deprecating demeanor accentuates the poignancy of his message. To receive the Lord demands a radical self-knowledge and self-emptying, which begins with the renunciation of personal sin in repentance. It requires a humility that reminds us of our unworthiness and our need to grow in perfection. It calls for a docility that draws us out of the busy distractions of life and into the desert, where we are purified and given a new beginning.

But Advent humility doesn't end with the confession of sins. What a temptation it must have been for John the Baptizer to be enveloped by so many devoted throngs who made him the center of their attention. But John's word and example remind us that Jesus should be the sole focus of our Advent preparations. Just as the Baptizer would not permit the people to fixate on him, neither should we be preoccupied with ourselves.

Rather, the humility that we receive as a principal grace of Advent reassures us of the three Gospel truths that John proclaims to the people. Jesus is the most powerful one. We are to settle for nothing less. His power overwhelms and transforms all the false forces in our life, from which we might otherwise try to draw our strength and values. Jesus alone is the all-worthy One. And yet, even though were are not fit to untie his sandals, the Lord will wash his disciples' feet before laying down his life for them.

Christ imparts his worthiness to us—if we are humble enough to accept it. And Jesus baptizes us in the Holy Spirit. The New Life that comes to us at Christmas in the birth of a Child is only the beginning of the Good News. Its culmination comes when the gift of the Spirit draws us up to share in God's own life.

Father Cameron teaches homiletics at St. Joseph Seminary, Yonkers, N.Y.