Second Sunday of Advent

Reflection: ‘Prepare ye the way!’


When I lived in Peru, I knew a holy woman who always led the town in the traditional novena that prepared them for their big feast.

She had a wonderful voice and she projected it so that a large crowd could hear her read those prayers at something close to the speed of sound. Everyone came in with a great “Amen” at all the appropriate places.

For us sisters whose first language was English, understanding her recitations was quite a challenge. Eventually, we realized that something seemed off — the prayers didn’t make sense; we were calling on God to do some ungodly things.

When she sat down to explain the rituals to us, she realized that there were a couple of pages missing in her prayer book — she was skipping over very important parts that would have made sense of what came later. We enjoyed the irony that it took people who spoke poor Spanish to figure that out!

Today, we hear some of Isaiah’s most famous lines, “Prepare the way of the Lord! … The glory of the Lord shall be revealed. All people shall see it together.”

Handel has taught us a magnificent way to sing about this and there are easier versions in which we can lift our voices with the same message, but what does it mean? Is it just a nice song, or is it supposed to indicate something important in our lives? (How often do we pay such close attention to the words of our hymns and prayers that they change the way we live?)

The beginning of Mark’s Gospel offers us a perspective on preparing the way of the Lord. Mark tells us that John the Baptist proclaimed a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” 

Believe it or not, John and his message of conversion were immensely popular! Great joy doesn’t sound exactly like the emotion brought forth by a call to “repentance” and acknowledgement of sin. What’s going on?

John’s call to “repentance” wasn’t an invitation to penance. He was inviting people to see everything in life from a new perspective. Instead of concentrating on the past, on what they had done wrong or lost, John, like Isaiah, invited people to focus on God’s promised future — a future he told them was about to dawn.

What would that future be like? Not even John could really envision it — he sent disciples to ask Jesus if he was the “one to come, or should we look for another?” 

Jesus didn’t fit the typical expectations for messiahs. To understand him, people had to return to Isaiah and ask about the servant he described. 

Isaiah wrote to people who imagined their lives as a desert wasteland. Life was dry, and arduous the road that led to unscalable mountains. Isaiah invited people under this depressing spell to listen to glad tidings, to discern the presence of God’s alluring love among them. 

It was not that mountains and valleys would actually disappear from their way, but the energy of divine grace would open their eyes to a future that would come into reality with each step they took toward it.

The repentance of which John and Jesus spoke did not look backward. It was a vision of an unimaginable different future so attractive that nobody need remain stuck or freeze another in their former ways. The “strong arm” of the Lord is not coercive; the rule of God is a hand up to those who desire the grace to move forward into the type of future for which we were created.

First Reading

(Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11)

Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated;
indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Go up on to a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14)

R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD—for he proclaims peace to his people.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and prepare the way of his steps.
R. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

Second Reading

(2 Peter 3: 8-14)

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved,
that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years
and a thousand years like one day.
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,”
but he is patient with you,
not wishing that any should perish
but that all should come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar
and the elements will be dissolved by fire,
and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

Since everything is to be dissolved in this way,
what sort of persons ought you to be,
conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted by fire.
But according to his promise
we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.


(Mark 1: 1-8)

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”
John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”