We've all been to concerts, shows or theaters where there are warm-up acts or trailers of upcoming movies. Sometimes I think that they are really good or exciting, and I wonder why I bought a ticket to see the show or movie I am waiting for.
Today we meet the warm-up act for the Messiah who prepares the audience to welcome him, not with songs or jokes or special effects, but with a call to a baptism of repentance: John the Baptist. Mark introduces John's role by quoting three texts from the Hebrew Scriptures which in their respective contexts referred to the exodus, the exile and the return from exile. (Ex. 23:20, Mal. 3:1, Is. 40:3) By including all three key moments in Jewish history, Mark is proclaiming Jesus as the fulfillment of all their hopes.
As Israel went through water to escape from Egypt, so their descendants would have to undergo a baptism of water to be prepared to enter a new age and a renewed covenant. Just as Israel was sent into exile, these people too were in exile because of their sins. Just as God was responsible for their return from exile, God would also pave their way back home by the forgiveness of sins.
But God needed a person to announce this new event, a messenger who would proclaim by word and deed and his very person that something astounding was about to happen; ergo, John the Baptist.
Mark purposely cast John in the role of a prophet by mentioning his dress and his diet. Again he uses a reference to the Hebrew Scriptures by mentioning his being clothed in camel hair and wearing a leather belt around his waist, like the prophet Elijah. (2 Kings 1:8) His strange diet of locusts and wild honey recalls God punishing Egypt by a plague of locusts and promising the people of Israel a land flowing with milk and honey, symbols of judgment and comfort which Mark would take
as his theme throughout the Gospel.
In Advent, may we listen to the voice of the Baptist: "Repent, prepare the way of the Lord" lest we receive locusts and not honey, judgment not comfort.
Cf. Patricia Sanchez commentary in Preaching Resources, December 7, 2014, p.3, Celebration, December, 2014.
-Fr. Sas, December 7 Homily
2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B