The Gospel for this Sunday is the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. Mark begins by recalling the Hebrew Bible’s message of the Prophet Isaiah: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." While Hebrew Scripture commentators see this as a prediction of Judah’s return from Babylonia captivity, Mark uses Isaiah to introduce John the Baptist and his ministry. If there is one word that seems to describe the vocation of John, it is that of "Preparer." What was his call to people as he helped them prepare for the ministry of Jesus Christ? He called them to repentance for the forgiveness of their sins. Why would he do this? John was a good Jew. He knew the commandments and the history of his people. Their greatest sin was that of idolatry. Throughout their history the Jews would forget the one true God and turn to creating gods of gold, stone, and wood like the nations around them. So John invited people to repentance and transformation of their lives so they would recognize the true God when He came to them in human form.
The message of John and the tradition of the Catholic Church come together in many Catholic parishes with Reconciliation services during Advent.
So what is the message of John to us as we prepare for the faith-deepening experience of the Birth of Jesus, the Christ? The message is the same as John preached to the Jews: "Prepare by seeking forgiveness." What gets in the way of our appreciating God’s gift of Jesus as Savior is that we have let idols clutter our lives as the Jews of old did. Does our abundance, our need for recognition, and our longing for security become ends and not means? Have they become the little idols we worship? So John is inviting us to transformation of heart by acknowledging and confessing our sins so we can be attentive to the true "reason for the season."
Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heaven wisdom grain us admittance to his company.