Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8.
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall.” These words of Mahatma Gandhi resonate with the Good News announced to us on the Second Sunday of Advent. Both Isaiah and John the Baptist proclaim the coming of the consoler of the suffering people of God. Pain and sorrow will not have the last word. Darkness will soon give way to light. Tears of sorrow will turn into tears of joy. The mourning veil shall be removed and the face of the people of God shall be radiant again.
Whispers of Consolation
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah is sent to proclaim a message of consolation to the exiled people of Israel. They have suffered enough, he says, and it is time to go back home. After about fifty years in exile, perhaps some of the Israelites had written off the prospect of returning to the Promised Land as a far-fetched possibility. Memories of life in Judaea were fading. But God never forgets his people. God’s saving help may seem to delay, as the second reading says, but God has his own time, the opportune time, the kairos. Isaiah announces that the Lord’s saving visit is near; the people need to prepare themselves to return to the Promised Land.
Just as their ancestors traversed the desert on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land, they too will pass through the desert on their return to Jerusalem. In the Bible, the desert is associated with death. It is a place where people encounter the dark forces of evil. But it is also a privileged place for encountering the saving presence of God. In the desert, the thirsty people of Israel saw the miracle of water gushing out of a rock. In the desert, the hungry Hebrews ate manna from heaven. In the desert, when fiery serpents terrorised the Israelites, the Lord extended his healing hand upon them. Similarly, the returning exiles will see the power of God in the desert, for God shall fill in every valley and make low every mountain. The “glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.” The Lord will lead his people back to the Land of Promise.
Shadow and Reality
The return of the Israelites from Babylon was a prefiguration, a shadow, a type of the consolation God would give to his people in and through Jesus Christ. John the Baptist, like Isaiah, is entrusted with the task of beating the village drum, announcing that the consoler of the people of Israel is coming. And when he comes, he will baptise the people with the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Comforter. The salvation Jesus brings is more far-reaching than the political freedom some of the Israelites are longing for. Jesus brings us the freedom to call God Abba, Father! Jesus brings us the freedom to become citizens of God’s Kingdom. We become co-heirs with Christ.
Christians as Messengers of Consolation
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis invites all Christians to renew their spiritual energies so as to become effective evangelisers today. Despair is a real temptation in our world today. Christians need to reach out to all people and whisper the Good News that our God reigns and that no problem is too big for God. The voices of pessimism, fatalism and mistrust need to be counteracted with the prophetic message of the imminence of God’s salvation. The Pope writes, “Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force. Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 276).
May we, during this Advent, be a voice of consolation to our neighbour.