Our gospel passage for today begins with these words: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” The word “gospel” literally means “good news.” So we are reading the beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Anointed One, the Son of God. It is important to take a moment and let this word sink into our hearts: good news is being proclaimed to us!
The first reading tells us why the coming of Jesus is good news. God tells Isaiah to speak words of comfort to his people: “Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord GOD.” This Jesus whom John the Baptist proclaims in the Gospel is God himself, coming with power to save his people. Indeed, he comes to reveal “the glory of the Lord” in us and in our land.
We are in the week of the great feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The light of that feast overflows into this whole week and shines out over the entire season of Advent. By the anticipated grace of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, Mary was preserved free from the corruption of sin. In her, “the glory of the Lord” has already been revealed in a most marvelous way. She shows us what God means when he promises to come to his people with power, to free us from sin and reveal his glory in us. In Jesus Christ he has done exactly that, and he continues to do so in us, that one day we too will shine with the same pure glory with which Mary our Immaculate Mother shines.
This is good news! God is coming with power to save us, his people! This is what God is doing. But as John the Baptist announces this, he also tells us, using the words of Isaiah, that there is something which we must do: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Isaiah explains further what must happen in order for the Lord to have a “straight path” to come to us: “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low.” Pope Francis, in the Spiritual Reflection, suggests that we can understand Isaiah’s words in this way: “The valleys to be lifted up represent all the shortcomings of our behavior before God, all our sins of omission…. The mountains and hills that must be made low are pride, arrogance, insolence.”
We see that John was encouraging the people to acknowledge their sins, repent of them, and be baptized. The liturgy for this week is setting us on this same path. Advent is a season of preparation, a time to do whatever we can to make a straight way for the Lord. Examining our consciences honestly and fearlessly with God’s help, repenting and turning away from sin, resolving to avoid anything which leads us into sin, and being cleansed by the grace of the Sacrament of Confession – this is how we do our part to make the Lord’s path into our hearts as smooth and uncluttered as possible.
Because of our fallen human condition, we can hear the call of the Baptist as bad news, as something to be avoided. The very sin which makes of our hearts a “wasteland” can blind us to the truth of our situation. In our pride and arrogance, we have a hard time seeing our need for God. Until some hardship befalls us, we can tend to think that we are doing fine running our lives as we see fit. In fact, we enjoy making up our own minds about what we judge as good or bad, about what we will or will not do.
Sin also tends to blind us to the fact that we were made for love. We do not always feel the pain of our inability to love as God calls us to. We do not experience our disconnection from God and from our brothers and sisters as the real tragedy that it is. We are like a person with a mental illness, whose condition makes him distrust and reject the very remedy which would cure him. If we feel any repulsion when we hear the Baptist’s call to repentance and conversion, we must identify it as a symptom of the very condition from which God is coming to save us.
Regardless of how our fallen nature might react, we must make a decision to welcome the Lord’s word to us today as the very good news that it is. He did not create us to live in the wasteland of sin and death which we experience in ourselves and in the world around us. St. Peter assures us in the second reading that we are made for “new heavens and a new earth.” We are made to shine with glory, like Mary our Mother, and God is coming to us in the Person of Jesus Christ to restore us by his mighty power. The Psalm tells us, “Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land.” Let us respond with whole-hearted joy to his invitation to make the way ready for him.
Do I take to heart that the good news is being proclaimed to me? During this time of Advent, am I taking time to make straight the way for the Lord in my life? Are pride, arrogance, and insolence the mountains and hills in my life that must be made low?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.