The Readings for this Sunday focus on the two legs of Advent: the proclamation of what God intends to accomplish for his people and the invitation for the people to prepare themselves for God’s action. The Gospel is announced and it calls for a response. But what is this Good News? In the following paragraphs we reflect on this action of God and the kind of response that it requires.
Bible Readings Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11 Psalm 85: 9-14 2 Peter 3: 8-14 Mark 1: 1-8
Gospel, more than books
The term Good News or Gospel is quite over used in the Christian vocabulary. And out of habit the word Gospel makes us think of first four books of the New Testament. Such association puts us at risk of reducing the term to a certain category of books, and thus, miss its profound sense. Fortunately, this Sunday, with its readings focussed on the Good News, gives us the opportunity to revisit the word and thus rediscover its fullest meaning for our life.
In the New Testament writings, with the Hellenistic language background, the term Good News is rendered by a Greek word: Evangelion. In French this root is conserved, thus, you speak of Evangile to refer to the Gospel. However it’s good to note that the term is not necessary religious. Any message or a report of joy was considered as good news, for example: the birth of a prince who would be heir to the throne, the installation of a new king known to be benevolent to the people or a report of victory in war.
If the word Evangelion is used when referring to the birth of Jesus it means his coming is considered as source of welfare for people. No wonder the angel calms the fear of the shepherds in these words: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Lk 2:10).
With Good News as focal point of the Readings of this 2nd Sunday of Advent, so we may pose the question: what kind of victory or message of joy does Advent announce for us? The First Reading gives us some indication.
Door thrown open
In the First Reading the prophet Isaiah announces the good news to the people of Israel. What kind? It’s about God who comes to unblock the door and thus open a future for his people. Here we have the people of Israel in exile, an experience that has not only caused them pain but also it made them somewhat doubt about their identity –are they really God’s own chosen people? How come then they descend so low, humiliated? Consequently, the people can’t just imagine that a day will come when they would return to their own land. Precisely, it’s at such moment when the people feel to have reached the cul-de-sac that God sends Isaiah to console them with the message of hope. He assures them that they are not at the dead end; God has plans to have them return to their own land. This is a message of joy, promising a future victory. That’s good news.
The image is powerfully revealing when the prophet talks of a high-way to be cut through the desert. But we know, the desert is a wide, empty space full of nothing but sand. Then, you can appreciate that this action of God is all about creating something new, even out of nothing. The Gospel hints on that.
New beginning for us
“The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”; that’s how Mark opens his Gospel. This beginning redirects us to genesis where God begins his act of creation. And again, through Jesus Christ, God is in action to make something new. And John the Baptist is sent not only to announce this good news to the people awaiting the messiah but he’s there also to prepare them to welcome this action of God. He proposes conversion; but what’s conversion?
It’s all about turning my heart to God and allowing him to open outlets in my life. And that’s the Good News announced during Advent season: for those who think they have hit the dead end, God is coming to open a way out. It’s possible to open a new page in your life. Hence, conversion, as turning my heart to God, implies opening myself this action of God. The difficulty we may have to battle with is to believe that the Good News is real and that we can smile again in life.
Good news is something we may not be used to, even though the word is familiar. What we know well is the type of news that the media bombards us with, leaving us not only with a bad taste but also robing us of the capacity to hope for a better day. Indeed, the most violent act you can inflict onto someone is to drain them empty of hope for better tomorrow. Happily for us, Advent is there to assure us –there’s something to look forward to. Roads can be cut even through the desert. But how does that come about?
Advent, time for active conversion
Even though the Good News is actually God acting in favour of his people, yet, we are not passive consumers. We are called to be actors of the Good News. Then, we realise that conversion is not just about being preoccupied with sin; about what I didn’t do well in the past, rather, it’s about channelling my energy to the kind of action that gives life to me and to others. It’s about creating.
A new beginning? You may wonder; but I have heard that before! Every year, don’t we hear the same thing about what God intends to do –but when will he finally act? Peter has a following response for you: “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you…”
Indeed, he’s waiting patiently for you and me to convert; that is, when we turn our hearts to him and join our hands with his in making outlets in people’s lives. We just can’t hope to see a world that’s more human if we, in the first place, don’t commit ourselves to acting more humanly.
Surely, Advent proclaims the message of hope –a new beginning, however, it’s not a time of waiting passively but a firm resolve to act in the light of the Gospel. And so we can think of the situations of the dead-end that we may be living in our personal lives, in our families or it could be someone else we know; the question is: what can I do to create and open new roads in such situations?
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