Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-5. 9-11
2 Peter 3:8-14
Twenty-two years ago, I was travelling through Spain and found myself outside the Grenada Cathedral with a desperate tugging of heartstrings to go in. Inside that dark and gloomy mausoleum, I experienced two moments worth mentioning. The first was confronting a life size plaster of John the Baptist’s head on a platter, so life-like, gory and disturbing, with eyes rolled back and in pain, that I shuddered and almost sobbed when I saw it. It sat next to his headless body. I stood for maybe five minutes staring at these two objects, trying to recall the stories of this man, this prophet, who heralded the Christ and died for his faith in God. The second moment, in front of a copy of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, was the most profound experience of my life. Any doubt I had in a God who revealed Godself to lead, create, inspire and protect me, and indeed, all of creation, was wiped away in that moment.
Our first reading from Isaiah is coupled with Mark’s Gospel. Isaiah proclaims, “A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord” (40:3) and Mark utilises this passage as a prophecy about John the Baptist, “Look, I am going to send my messenger before you: he will prepare your way” (Mark 1:2). For a truly inspirational analysis of Isaiah 40, I would encourage you all to listen to Australian Women Preach this week, as a Jewish Australian rabbi offers an incredible sermon in which she explains that the Hebrew word for messenger in verse 40:9, M’vaseret, is actually a feminine noun. The joyful messenger who shouts without fear, is a woman. I find this remarkable because while there are, no doubt, many strong, courageous biblical leaders and prophets who are women, most have been forgotten, silenced or in this case, simply ignored. That Isaiah’s female messenger is called by God to arise, ascend and proclaim, to speak out against injustice, to prophesy, gives me hope that in my own calling, God asks the same of me.
I have no doubt that John’s head and body which stunned and silenced me in that cathedral in Granada so long ago, did in fact, prepare my way, and make straight my path, toward the moment in front of Christ’s last meal that changed my life forever. His was certainly the voice crying in the wilderness that led me to repentance. But today, Isaiah’s M’vaseret reminds me that my work, my faith, my life and my love of and for God, is a message that can also bring others to life. No matter who we are, this Advent we are all called to “go up on a high mountain” and proclaim, “‘Here is your God’” (Is. 40:9).
Angela Marquis works for the Hobart Passionists at St Joseph’s in Tasmania, with WATAC (Women and the Australian Church), and as a primary school chaplain.