(Adults, you could read the first paragraph of the reflection to the child, then read the Gospel, and then continue with the reflection.)
This Sunday is the second Sunday of Advent. We remember that Advent is a time of preparation. We know that a feast is coming—the feast that celebrates Jesus coming into the world. On this Sunday, though, when we light two candles on the Advent wreathe, we do not hear about a time before Jesus is born. Instead, the Church has us thinking about a time after his birth, when Jesus is already a grown man. We know, then, that we are not preparing for a birth. What kind of preparation do we need, then? How do we prepare?
the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
This is John the Baptist. We know that he is a cousin of Jesus, probably only six months older than him. In this Gospel reading, John is no longer a baby, but a fully grown man. What is he doing?
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah
John the Baptist is proclaiming. To proclaim something means to announce something very important. What important thing is John the Baptist announcing? St. Luke says that he proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. What does this mean?
To repent means to turn around and to come back to God. The people know that some of their choices lead them away from God. They decide not to listen to the Good Shepherd. They make choices that hurt others or hurt themselves. After awhile, they discover that they do not feel very good on the inside. They want to be scooped up by the Good Shepherd and brought back, but they do not know how. John the Baptist is giving the people a way to come back to God. He gives them a way to discover the forgiveness of God.
How does John know that God will forgive the people? How can he proclaim this? St. Luke tells us that John has listened to the words of the prophet Isaiah. We know that prophets are people who sit in such stillness, who listen so carefully, that they hear the voice of God. They do not keep what they hear to themselves. They proclaim it to all.
John the Baptist has heard Isaiah proclaim:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’
That word "shall," what does it mean? If our parents say, "you shall clean your room before dinner," we know that we must clean our room; it is what they want us to do. We know that we will clean our room, because we want to eat dinner. Shall means it must happen and it will happen.
Isaiah proclaims that the valleys must be filled, the mountains must be made low. Sheep who have wandered far into the valleys, far away from the Good Shepherd—can they see him way down there? Sheep who have climbed far up the mountains, far above the Good Shepherd—can they hear him way up there? The sheep must be brought back to the Good Shepherd.
Isaiah proclaims that this will happen. All flesh—all the sheep—will see the salvation of God. They will see the Good Shepherd who finds his sheep and brings them back, rejoicing.
This is very Good News! No wonder Isaiah proclaims it! No wonder John the Baptist proclaims the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins! It must be done, and it will be done! It shall!
We know that to proclaim means to announce, but it also means to praise in public so that everyone can hear. When Isaiah proclaims that all flesh shall see the salvation of God, who is he praising? When John the Baptist proclaims the forgiveness of sins, who is he praising? Who is so good as to forgive all our sins? Who is the one who saves?
In Advent, when we prepare for the feast, we praise our God who loves us and forgives us and gives us a way to come back. We praise our Good Shepherd who finds us and scoops us up and brings us home. We confess our sins, we are forgiven, we are ready for the feast.