When I first started to reflect on this gospel reading, I noticed that this is the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark, chapter one, verse one. I didn’t know that before. I always think of the story of Jesus’ birth as the beginning of the Gospel message or the famous “In the beginning was the Word…” verse from the Gospel of John. But I learned that Mark starts the story of Jesus right here, with John the Baptist.
This is very meaningful for me as I meditate on the season of Advent. I was thinking about the nativity of Jesus as the beginning of the story but, in Advent, that is actually the goal of our preparation, not the start of it. In light of this, it is appropriate to consider John the Baptist as the central figure of Advent. He is the one who calls out, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths.” That is what Advent is all about.
That thought led me to a further realization: John’s message in announcing the Messiah is all about “repentance and the forgiveness of sins.” I often overlook this aspect of the season of Advent. How can we prepare for the coming of the Lord without repentance? How can we welcome the one who forgives our sins if we haven’t done the work of reckoning with our own sinfulness? We usually think about Lent as the time for this type of spiritual discipline, but it is certainly just as important for Advent.
As I enter more fully into the season of Advent, I need to resolve to “make straight his path” in my life by examining my sins and striving for true repentance. God’s promise is that this spiritual discipline will be rewarded with the full joy of Jesus’ birth at Christmas.