These are our two words for this second week of Advent. In the First Reading from today’s Mass, the prophet Isaiah cries out with a heartfelt plea from God “Console my people, console them – speak to the heart of Jerusalem”. They are words which I am sure find a resonance with so many families today who in the midst of this terrible pandemic, are feeling bereft at the loss of a loved one. In these very trying times we need these words to speak to the heart of every city, in every community, so all people can be consoled and feel the value of every life as one to be treasured. In the time of Isaiah back in the 6th century BC, when these words were first written, Jerusalem has been overwhelmed and the city destroyed, the people taken and led off in exile to Babylon. Such was their desperation that Isaiah the prophet, understood and proclaimed in this moment of desolation, that the message needed to be heard was one of hope for the future, a future which itself would grow out of a consoling love expressed and exhibited from the outset of the disaster that had befallen the city and its people. It is with soaring poetry and visionary imagination that Isaiah evokes the voice of God which cries out: “Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord” so that in preparation for this moment, consolation will be an active and transparent reality in the shepherding and feeding of the flock .
They are words which echo down the ages, and they are heard once more by another people, another com- munity who are being overwhelmed and persecuted. As their consolation, they read and hear these words written down for their time : “The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. The opening lines of Mark’s gospel, our gospel text for today, were written for a small group of Christians in the Imperial Capital of Rome, who were being sought out and tormented for their belief in Jesus as the Messiah. As consolation, Mark quotes the passage from Isaiah as the very text which he feels will help them to face up to the traumas they are going through. A text that Mark now sees as having been fulfilled by the coming of Christ, through his passion and resurrection. It is a compelling way to begin his gospel message of joy and good news. A pathway which evokes a hope of a new exodus that is about to begin.
As we journey through Advent, our hope likewise is enwrapped in this expectation. The message of the gospel and the call of Isaiah still speak to our time and to our situation as we face and deal with this pan- demic. How are we to face up to the task? Remember how Isaiah phrased it: He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading them to rest... It is personified in the one whom John the Baptist speaks of. The one who will baptise us with the Holy Spirit, and in the name of that Holy Spirit teach us to perform such loving acts of consolation within our commu- nities. Let them be the fuel that kindles the flames of love to inspire us this Advent. Let it be a beginning