Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church
Jennings, Louisiana
December 4, 2011
Second Sunday of Advent

“’Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.’”  Mark 1:2

I recall a parishioner once who was planning a trip to Europe.  He had devised an itinerary on his own, was traveling by himself, and wanted to stay not at hotels but at monasteries along the way.  He came to me, as his pastor, and wanted me to write a letter of introduction for him.  Since he had been active in the parish and was well known to many for his church work, I wrote the letter, which then he would present to the guest master at the monastery.  He told me later, with gratitude, that the letter of introduction had worked and made his journey all the more enjoyable. 

Advent is a season of introductions.  Jesus does not appear without notice.  He is introduced to us.  That introduction actually begins in the Book of Genesis.  When Adam and Eve sinned, it is already in the heart of God to redeem.  He wants to reconcile man to His love and goodness.  We hear of this desire over and over again the Old Testament.  From the time of Noah to the call of Abraham, God seeks to establish a rapport which we call a covenant with man.  To do so He must create a people, who belong to Him, and for this reason Abraham, the Father of the Jews, and Moses, their lawgiver and leader, receive their vocation.

All the while in the will of God was the purpose which brought about Jesus Christ.  It was the will of God that His Word would become flesh.  As we read in the Gospel of St. John, “[T]he Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).  Jesus, the Eternal Word of God, would teach us how to join ourselves to God in faith and in so doing live and act in such as way that would be pleasing to God.  He who was love would teach us to love. 

To prepare for that supreme act of reconciling love, God made a people all His own.  He made His prophets write letters of introduction, so that when the Eternal Word of God made flesh would come, we could recognize Him.  We call these words of introduction the prophecies of the Messiah, and they appear in prophets such as Isaiah.

It comes as no surprise that John the Baptist introduces Jesus by quoting Isaiah in the Gospel today.  “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Mark 1:3). 

When I wrote a letter of introduction for my parishioner to travel, I had to keep in mind two things.  First, the people who read the letter did not know me.  I had to explain who I was.  Second, these people reading the letter did not know who this stranger standing in front of them was.  I had to explain who he was also.  To do so, I had to reference sources that the reader might already know.  John the Baptist does the same in the Gospel. 

John first quotes a great prophet, Isaiah, to explain who he is.  He is a messenger, “[a] voice of one crying out in the desert” (Mark 1:3).  He is God’s messenger and he comes to introduce someone more important than he is.   John is “not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals” (Mark 1:7).  John introduces one whose baptism will be so much more powerful, because it will be the work of the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8).

There is one difficulty with any introduction.  The reader or listener must believe the introduction.  The guest master of the monastery reading my letter and the people listening to John the Baptist must place their faith in what is being said.  And perhaps in this lies the greatest challenge of Advent.

Advent challenges us to a greater faith.  Who is introducing us?  Who is John the Baptist?  Who is this Church that tirelessly makes this introduction?  And, most importantly, who is Jesus Christ whom they introduce?  What does it mean to believe, to have faith? 

We live in a world today in which faith in God is being challenged constantly.  Much in the world that surrounds us is Godless.  There is a great deal to distract us from what should be our heavenly goal.  So, we cannot take faith for granted. 

The advice of St. Peter in our second reading is, therefore, appropriate.  “[A]ll should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  In those few words, the Letter of St. Peter tells us what we need to do.  To believe we must change.  That is perhaps the message of Advent.  It certainly was the message of John the Baptist.  It is only through repentance, a turning away from sin and whatever is contrary to God’s will, that we are able believe the messenger and the one he introduces.