Sunday Sermon for December 7, 2014, the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B

Readings: Is 40:1-5, 9-11; 2Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8
In the first reading today God speaks to Isaiah telling him to give comfort to His people. This message comes at the end of a long period of suffering for the people of Israel during which their sins were expiated. Now as the call to comfort the people is given, it is clear that there is still a bit more suffering that will occur because we are told that the valleys will filled in and the mountains will be brought low. However, in doing this, God is preparing a way in the desert.

There are a couple of things we need to see in this. First of all, the place to find God is in the desert. This does not necessarily imply a physical desert; rather, it implies a place of silence, a place devoid of distractions, a place of solitude. These are the kinds of places that most people today make every effort to avoid. We do not like silence and we tend to shun solitude. Perhaps this is because we are trying to avoid God, but I suspect that it is more that we are trying to avoid our own selves.

We know that if we enter into silence and solitude we are going to be faced with the bitter reality of the self. There are several reasons for this. First, we have given into the desires of the senses which do not like being deprived as they are when we are in silence and solitude. Second, we have given into the selfishness of our society, but when we are alone with our own self we recognize that we do not like what we see. Third, most people do not have very deep prayer lives, so they do not know what to do when God draws a soul deeper to Himself.

This brings us to the second point that we need to understand about God preparing a way in the desert. Most of us will not go into the desert unless it is forced upon us. If we do go voluntarily, it is usually only for a brief time so that we can escape quickly and get back to our ordinary routine. God forces us into the desert through the suffering He allows us to endure in our lives. Deep or prolonged suffering is the only way most people are going to get inside of themselves so that God can prepare a way within them. This is not pleasant, and we often get angry at God when He allows this, but because of our sinfulness and our stubbornness, it is the only effective means for this to happen. We do not like the agony, but the fruit it produces makes it all worthwhile.

In the Gospel we are told about St. John the Baptist. We are told that people of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to the desert to listen to the Baptist. This was no simple task. It is twenty miles from Jerusalem to the area where St. John was preaching, mostly all downhill on the way there, but uphill 7200 feet to get back home. These people did not have cars; some had donkeys, the rest walked.

What would inspire people to make such a trek? Think about it, many of us would not be willing to drive twenty miles at freeway speed because it would seem to much of a hassle. These people obviously did not care about the inconvenience; something was drawing them to the desert. Upon arrival in the desert, the people were faced with their sinfulness and were called upon to repent and change their lives. The man who called them thus was a man who lived in solitude and silence and lived a life of deprivation. Somehow, this resonated with the people.

The reason it worked was because of the suffering the people had endured at the hands of the Roman soldiers who occupied Jerusalem and the sinfulness of the people who had given themselves over to the pagan ways of life. We can be certain that those who liked the Gentile way of living did not go to see the Baptist, but those who suffered from the straying sheep went to hear the voice of one calling out in the desert.

All of this is important for us because we live in a time of great sin, a time when people have abandoned the ways of the Lord, a time where selfishness reigns supreme. If this is causing you anguish, praise God! That means it is purifying you for the Day of the Lord as we read in the second reading. Pray and let the suffering make a way into the desert to hear the Lord promise us comfort in Him.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit