We start the second week of the new liturgical year with the beginning of St. Mark's Gospel. St. Mark makes it clear that this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but it's also a continuation of the unfolding revelation found in the Old Testament.
Isaiah tells us: "Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.'" Isaiah prophesied the forerunner of the Lord.
John the Baptist's lifestyle gave away his central message. He lived in the desert, dressed in camel hair, ate locusts and wild honey, proclaimed a fiery message of repentance.
True, the Baptist could have come dressed in soft sheep fur instead of hard, wild camel hair. He could have found a comfortable place to live, ate food tastier than wild locusts and spoken soft words of comfort, but then he wouldn't be speaking a message of repentance by his lifestyle.
Because there was such congruence between his message and his lifestyle, large numbers of people came into the desert to hear him preach the message of repentance and to change their lives.
The same Holy Spirit moving in the heart of John the Baptist was also moving in the hearts of those who heard his fiery message. Something new was happening with the prophetic word. John the Baptist pointed to the coming agent of change when he prophesied: "One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of His sandals. I have baptized you with water; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
John's baptism was not a baptism giving remission for sin, but preparing the hearts of the people to receive Jesus and His message of repentance from sin. That John the Baptist was so hard-hitting in his language and still drew large crowds away from the luxury of Jerusalem to repent tells us that there was a latent hunger for a God who takes away the burden of sin.
Not only does John the Baptist say that Jesus will baptize, but also that He will baptize with the Holy Spirit. At the very beginning of this Gospel, John the Baptist focuses on the future when the Holy Spirit will be poured out at Pentecost, and mankind will finally experience the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within the heart of man.
A Pentecostal fire burns in John's words. It's a fire that is calling for repentance from sin and a profound yearning for an all-holy God dwelling within the human heart.
What better way to prepare for the birth of a savior than by asking the Holy Spirit to give us a spirit of repentance, a hunger for a Savior who is coming down to restore us in our relationship with God. Only if we profoundly long for this union with God, only if we become increasingly uncomfortable with our relations with others and with ourselves, do we really have something to long for in a Savior.
The world needs something bigger than itself to find peace here on earth. The world needs someone bigger than itself to learn how to live and forgive and get along with fellow human beings. The world needs the Holy Spirit living in society to find its way to God. I need the Holy Spirit to show me how to repent so that I can live more intimately and lovingly with others.
Whether we know it or not, each of us hungers more for the holiness of God than for anything else. We are simply not in touch with the deepest hungers the Father has placed in our hearts. Prayer and repentance help us to see what is blocking our awareness of that profound hunger for God.
This should help us prepare our hearts for a deeper coming of the Savior into our lives this Advent. We ought to really pray this Advent for the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our spiritual poverty so that we could cry out more deeply for the salvation that comes from repentance.
If we need a motive to help move us to repentance, St. Peter gives it to us in the second reading: "Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day... But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire...."
If I do not make a decision about these Scriptures before I finish reading this article, chances are these Scriptures will pass into a distant memory, only to be recalled when it's too late to change.
Scripture tells us: "If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts!" Ask Jesus to help you say one simple prayer each day that will quicken your heart with the Fire of the Holy Spirit. For example, say daily: "Jesus, I do not like myself the way I am. I surrender my heart totally to you. I ask you to forgive me all my sins and to baptize me in the Holy Spirit and fire!"
Clip out this prayer, carry in your billfold and pray it daily.