- Isaiah 40:1-11
- Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
- 2 Peter 3:8-15a, 18
- Mark 1:1-8
John’s ministry is one of preparation, calling people to repentance, baptism, confession and forgiveness – the elements of our own preparation for encountering the living God. There is no way than this “repentance road” on which the King is able to enter the hearts of his people. Confession and forgiveness remove the barriers that obstruct the King’s embrace of love.
To baptize, (Greek, baptizo) literally means “to dip in” or “immerse,” implying also “to wash clean.” John invites the people of Israel to be cleansed from sin by repentance, turning away from old ways and moving in the opposite direction. To “turn around.”
Richard D. N. Dickinson writes, “Repentance is not passive waiting but active expectancy characterized by the alignment of one’s whole being with what God is doing in the world . . . ‘Repent,’ John insists, for repentance is the sine qua non for expectant watchfulness and for being received into the imminent reign of Yahweh. Thus repentant obedience is absolutely indispensable for the hopeful expectancy of Advent.”
Confession, which means “to agree with someone else,” involves the open acknowledgment of the truth about our sin – to ourselves, to God and perhaps to another person. Confession specifically names the offensive behavior, recognizes its darkness and brings a disciplined effort to turn away from it. John hears the people’s confessions before the people are immersed in the water. He searches their attitudes and questions their behavior (Luke 3:7-17). This verbalizing is the outward show of their repentance, which makes them candidates for baptism. Confession does more than recognize sin; it agrees with God about sin’s seriousness.
John the Baptist announces the coming of the long expected day pointed to in the Hebrew Scriptures. The “good tidings” of Isaiah 40 become the “good news” announced in the opening words of the gospel according to Mark. The origin of the word “gospel” comes from the Isaiah text and from Mark’s opening words. “Gospel” means “good news.”
- Read the opening verses of Matthew, Luke and John and compare it to the beginning of Mark’s gospel. What is the impact of the opening words of John the Baptist in Mark’s introduction? What is the “good news of Jesus Christ” (v. 1) that John proclaims and how have you experienced this good news in your own life?
- Why do you think Mark draws so much attention to the details of John’s appearance and his life in the wilderness? Why did people come from all Judea and Jerusalem to see him?
- John draws a contrast between his baptism and that of the Messiah. What is the difference that John establishes here, and how is this significant for your own baptism?
- In both the Gospel reading and Isaiah 40:1-11, the prophets tell us to “prepare the way of the Lord.” How would you describe the vision of both John and Isaiah as to what the world will be like when the Lord comes? How are we as individuals and as the community of the Church called to prepare the way?
- The Advent season is a time of hope as we anticipate the coming of the Messiah. Reading 2 Peter 3:8-15a, what counsel do these words give us as we await “the coming of the day of God” (v. 12)?