2nd SUNDAY IN ADVENT (Cycle B)

Readings:
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85:9-14
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095). 

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: All Humanity Shall See the Salvation of God
Today's readings focus on release from captivity and restoration.  In this second week of Advent, we continue to turn our thoughts to the "comings" of God the Son in the past and the future.  We look forward to celebrating the Messiah's First Advent when all creation rejoiced at His Incarnation, but we also think about of His promised return.  In His Second Advent, Christ will return to claim His Kingdom of the Church from its earthly exile, fulfilling His promise of universal salvation.  He will also bring about the Final Judgment for the men and women of all nations when He separates the faithful and obedient sheep from the sinful and unworthy goats of humanity's flock. 

God instructed the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah to prophesy to the covenant people concerning the judgment of their future exile in Babylon.  Their exile judgment was a divine punishment for their many sins and their apostasy from the Sinai Covenant with Yahweh (Is 39:5-7).  In today's First Reading, after the harsh oracle of the exile, God instructs Isaiah to console the people by assuring them that while they are making atonement for their sins in exile, that God will not forget them.  He assures them that God is Israel's Divine Shepherd who cares for the sheep of His flock.  He will forgive their sins and will bring about the release of His people from their captivity.  God will prepare the way for their return to their homes in the Promised Land; gently leading them like a shepherd leads his flock.  He will not only restore them to the land, but He will restore the peace of His covenant relationship with His people. 

The Responsorial Psalm addresses the refugees returning from exile, promising them the peace of the Messianic Age foretold by the prophets (i.e., Is 43:3-7; 49:14-26; 58:8-12; Zec 2:9, 14-17; 8:12-13; 9:9-10).  The psalmist gives the assurance that there is salvation for those who "fear" God, referring to those who fear offending God and live in reverent obedience to His commands.  The psalmist proclaims that salvation comes from God's steadfast love.  It is a love demonstrated by His offer of forgiveness for our sins and the restoration of the peace that comes from our covenant relationship with Him.

In our Second Reading from St. Peter second letter to the universal Church, he warns us that the promised sudden return of the Christ can happen at any moment.  The Second Coming of Christ only seems delayed because God, in His mercy, allows time for the entire earth to hear the Gospel message of salvation.  Using the imagery of a roaring fire and a cosmic meltdown, the inspired writer describes the Second Coming of Christ when He will return as mankind's divine Judge and inaugurate a new creation.  In that event, the old world will pass away, and God will create a new heaven and a new earth in which every living thing will flourish in righteousness in the Presence of the Almighty.  The knowledge that the Christ could come in judgment at any moment should instill in each of us a desire to repent our sins and to persevere in holiness so that He will find us in a state of grace at the moment of His inevitable coming. 

St. Mark tells us in today's Gospel Reading that Israel's historic deliverance from the Babylonian exile prefigures an even greater act of God in the coming of Jesus, the promised Messiah.  Quoting from the Isaiah passage in our First Reading, St. Mark assures us that God the Son came to fulfill the promises of the Old Testament prophets.  Jesus came to set Israel and the men and women of all nations free from bondage to sin and death.  His mission continues in the gathering of the faithful in this earthly exile into the full restoration of fellowship with God in the Promised Land of Heaven.  It is a restoration that Christ will complete in His Second Advent, and we need to continually keep our souls in a state of grace in preparation for the glorious event of His return.

The First Reading Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 ~ God is Coming to Free His People
1 Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.  2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.  3 A voice cried out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!  Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!  4 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.  5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. [...] 9 Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news!  Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your GOD!  10 Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.  11 Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.

This passage begins what most Biblical scholars see as the second part of the Book of Isaiah (chapters 40-55), traditionally called the Book of Consolation.  The Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel and exiled the ten northern tribes in 722 BC.  When the Southern Kingdom failed to repent, God allowed the Babylonians to take the covenant people of Judah into exile in 587/6 BC, after burning Jerusalem and the holy Temple of Yahweh to the ground.  God used the Assyrians and Babylonians as His instruments of judgment in response to the peoples' many sins, including idol worship and their apostasy from the Sinai Covenant.  Before the terrible event of Judah's exile took place, God, speaking through His prophet Isaiah, warned the people of Judah of the coming divine judgment if they failed to repent their sins.  Now, in this poem, God reassures His covenant people that in their time of trial that He will not forget them.  God tells His prophet to comfort His people with the promise that the day will come when they will have atoned for their sins "twice over" (verse 2).  Their exile in Babylon will end, a way will be made for their return, and He will restore them to both to their land and the fellowship of their covenant relationship with Him.

3 A voice cried out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!  Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!  4 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.  5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. 
The prophetic voice in verses 3-5 is deliberately left unidentified by the prophet.  But the writers of the Gospels, who quote from this passage, identify the prophetic voice as St. John the Baptist (Mt 3:3; Mk 1:3; Lk 1:76; 3:4-6; Jn 1:23).  It is the Baptist who God sent to prepare the way for the Davidic Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. 

9 Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news!  Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your GOD!  10 Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.  11 Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.
"Zion" refers to the covenant people (see the document "Zion and the Presence of God." The "high mountain" refers to Mt. Moriah, the site of the Jerusalem Temple the Babylonians will destroy and the future site of the restored Temple that is a symbol of the restored Israel.  When they return to their land, the people are to shout the "good news" from the top of Mt. Moriah that God is faithful to His people and rewarded them for their unfailing faith in Him by leading them "home" with loving care like a shepherd leads his sheep. 

In the New Testament, Jesus uses the same imagery of a dedicated shepherd to the sheep of his flock in describing His relationship with His disciples (Jn chapter 10).  The Church has continued to use the same imagery: "The Church is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ (Jn 10:1-10).  It is a flock of which God himself foretold he would be the shepherd (Is 40:11; Ez 34:11-31), and whose sheep, although ruled by human shepherds, are nevertheless continuously led and nourished by Christ himself, the Good Shepherd and the Prince of the shepherds (cf. Jn 10:11; 1 Pet 5:4), who gave his life for the sheep (cf. Jn 10:11-15)" (Vatican II document, Lumen gentium, 6).

Responsorial Psalm 85:9-14 ~ God's Salvation
The response is: "Lord, let us see your kindness and grant us your salvation."

9 I will hear what God proclaims; the LORD, for he proclaims peace to his people.  Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land.
Response:
10 Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.  11 Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice [mercy] shall look down from heaven.
Response:
12 The LORD himself will give his benefits; our land shall yield its increase.  13 Justice shall walk before him, and prepare the way of his steps.
Response:

The psalm promises the refugees returning from exile the peace of the Messianic Age foretold by the prophets (Is 43:3-7; 49:14-26; 58:8-12; Zec 2:9, 14-17; 8:12-13; 9:9-10).  The salvation promised to those who "fear" God refers to those who fear offending God and live in reverent obedience to His commands.  The psalmist uses the imagery of the blessings of the fruit produced by rainfall coupled with the earth's fertility, comparing that imagery to the blessings of God's justice and truth (verses 11-12).  The psalmist proclaims that salvation comes through God's steadfast love, demonstrated by His willingness to forgive our sins and restoring the peace of our covenant relationship with Him.

Many Fathers of the Church saw verses 10-11 as a promise of the Incarnation of the divine Word and the union of the Godhead and human nature in Jesus Christ.  Quoting from verse 10 of this psalm, St. Athanasius wrote: "Truth and mercy embrace in the truth which came into the world through the ever-virgin Mother of God" (Expositiones in Psalmos, 84).  Jesus is God's divine justice, and He came to grant the gift of salvation to all who walk in "the way of His steps" (verse 12).

The Second Reading 2 Peter 3:8-14 ~ The Lord's Coming
8 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.  9 The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard "delay," but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  10 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, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.  11 Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.  13 But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.  14 Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

In this letter to the universal Church, St. Peter reminds the faithful that God does not reckon time as we do; time is an invention for the earth-bound (verse 8). The promised return of Christ only seems delayed because God, in His mercy, allows humanity the time necessary for the entire earth to hear the Gospel message of salvation (verse 9).  The knowledge that Christ could come in judgment at any moment should instill in each of us a desire to repent our sins and to persevere in holiness so that we will be found in a state of grace when He returns. 

Then in verses 10-12, using imagery of a roaring fire and a cosmic meltdown, the inspired writer describes the Second Coming of Christ when He will return as mankind's divine Judge (see Dan 7:13-14; Rev 20:11-15).  It is the event in which the old world will pass away, and a new heaven and a new earth will be created in which everything that is living will flourish in righteousness in the Presence of the Almighty (verses 13-14).  Our cry should be, "Oh Lord, that we may be counted among the righteous at the moment of Your return!"

The Gospel of Mark 1:1-8 ~ Repent and Prepare for the Coming of the Lord!
1 The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.  2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: "Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.  3 A voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'"  4 John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5 People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. 6 John was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist.  He fed on locust and wild honey.  7 And this is what he proclaimed: "One mightier than I is coming after me.  I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.  8 I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

1 The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
The Gospel of St. Mark, like the Gospel of John, echoes the opening words of Genesis 1:1 ~ In the beginning ...  It is an echo of God's original creative design.  The Advent of the Messiah is a new beginning and destined to become a new creation event.  

The three key components that Mark uses in verse one are the words "Gospel," "Christ," and "Son of God."  The Greek word euangelion is the root of the English word "evangelize" and means "good news."  Old English renders it in as "god-spel" or "gospel."  In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is basar, translated euangelion in the LXX (Greek translation of the Old Testament).  English versions of the Old Testament often translate the word as "glad tidings" or "good news."  The Greek word euangelion was a common term in the ancient Greco-Roman world and usually referred to a military victory, or public festivals associated with a royal birth, or the coronation of a king.  The Hebrew Scriptures use the word to proclaim the "good news" of God the Divine King's rule, salvation, or vindication (see Is 40:9 LXX; 41:27; 52:7; 60:6; 61:1).  However, St. Mark uniquely uses the noun to describe the mission of Jesus Christ, the promised Davidic Messiah.  The "good news" is that Jesus is the Son of God! 

That Jesus is the Messiah and "Son of God" is the "good news," but His mission is also to proclaim the "good news." The "good news" He came to proclaim is the coming of the Kingdom of God (see Mk 1:14-15 and Mt 4:17).  There is no contradiction because Jesus is the Kingdom Incarnate, as He will declare to the Pharisees when they question Him about when the Kingdom of God will come.  He will tell them: "The Kingdom of God is among you" (Lk 17:21).

The Gospel of Mark repeats 14 times that Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God (1:14, 15; 4:11, 26, 30; 9:1, 47; 10:14, 15; 10:23, 24, 25; 12:34; 14:25).  It is the "good news" prophesied by the prophet Isaiah in our First Reading:

Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1-2 from the LXX (Greek translation) in the homily He gave to the Synagogue in Nazareth when He announced: "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (Lk 4:18-19).

The second keyword St. Mark uses in verse 1 is the Greek word Christos which means "anointed" and is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah = mashiah, "anointed one."  Prophets, priests, and kings were the three holy offices where God's divinely appointed agents were ritually anointed with holy oil (see Ex 29:7; 1 Sam 10:1; 2 Sam 24:7; 1 Kng 19:16; Ps 2:2).  Jesus came to fulfill all three holy offices (CCC 436, 783).  Notice that St. Mark uses "Jesus Christ" like a proper name as will St. Paul in his letters. 

St. Mark also identifies Jesus as the "Son of God."  The announcement that the Messiah is the "Son of God" could be understood in two different ways by Mark's audience.  Jewish Christians knew that Sacred Scripture used the title for one who enjoyed a special relationship with the Almighty:

St. Mark announces that Jesus is both the Messiah and the Son of God, defining Jesus as the promised Davidic heir (promised by the prophets in Is 11:10-12; Jer 23:5-6; Ez 34:23-26; 37:25-28).  According to the prophets, the Messiah was to come from the lineage of the great King David in fulfillment of the eternal covenant God made with David and his heirs.  Every Davidic heir was to be considered a "son" of God.  The covenant was unconditional and promised that David's throne would endure forever (i.e., 2 Sam 7:11b-16; 23:5; 1 Kng 2:4; 11:9-20; 1Chr 22:10; 2 Chr 13:5; Sir 45:25; 47:2, 11/13)

The Roman Gentiles who were not familiar with Christian doctrine might connect the title "son of God" with the Emperor Tiberius who they called the "son of God" because he was the heir of his deified adopted father, the former emperor, Augustus Caesar.  In Jesus' day, the Roman denarius bore the image of the Emperor Tiberius (ruled 14-37 AD) and the Latin inscription "Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest" (Harrington, Gospel of Matthew, page 310).  The title "son of God" for Romans reading Mark 1:1 probably suggested that Jesus is also the son of a God-King.

In the New Testament, the title "Son of God" takes on a meaning not previously conveyed in the Old Testament Scriptures.  Jesus is the ideal king of Israel (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7; 89:26-29), the chosen people of God (Ex 4:22; Is 63:16; Hos 11:1).  In the New Testament, the title expresses Jesus' unique relationship with God as the Father's "only begotten Son" (Jn 1:18).  It won't be until 1:11 that St. Mark reveals that Jesus is a divine Son who is fully man and fully God.  It is for this reason that Jesus deserves the title "Son" of God both in His divinity as God's "only begotten Son" and in His humanity as the Davidic heir and rightful King of Israel.  It is significant that St. Mark will place these two titles: Christ/Messiah and Son of God, on the lips of first a Jew and then a Gentile at two points of climax in his narrative: St. Peter in Mark 8:29 and a Roman soldier in Mark 15:39.  The title "Son of God" will become increasingly important in St. Mark's narrative unfolds (1:1, 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:61; 15:39).  We know that Jesus is the Messiah who is the Son of God because Mark told us in 1:1.  However, as the narrative unfolds, Markowever,H will allow the reader see how other people exposed to Jesus' ministry will make the discovery and either accept Jesus as Lord or reject Jesus' messiahship.

2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: "Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.  3 A voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'" 
Quoting from the prophecies of the prophets Malachi and Isaiah (from our First Reading), Mark tells his readers that there is a God-appointed messenger/forerunner promised by the prophets.  God sent the messenger, and the voice of the messenger repeats God's message.  In the prophecy, God speaks as "I" to "you," saying: "I send my messenger before your face" (literal translation).  The one addressed is to make a journey down the "way" to prepare it for "the Lord."  The "you" addressed by God in verse 2 is "the Lord" in verse 3. 

Mark attributes the prophecy to Isaiah in verse 2, but the text he quotes is a combination of prophecies from the 6th century BC prophet Malachi and the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah.  The prophecies from the prophets Malachi and Isaiah are combined to provide the words of God that begin the narrative, witness to the coming of the "One" who is "Lord," Kyrios in the Greek.  Kyrios is a word in the LXX (Greek Septuagint translation) used consistently to translate the Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).  The theme of "the way" (verse 3) will have a significant place as the narrative progresses.  "The Way" will become the first name for the community of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:2; 18:25-16; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), before the faith community at Antioch adopted the title "Christian" (Acts 11:26).

Malachi is the last of the Old Covenant prophets and the last to announce the Messiah's coming.  The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that St. John the Baptist is the prophetic voice crying out the prophetic words of God in the Judean wilderness (Mt 3:1-3; Mk 1:2-4; Lk 3:2-6).  Please note that the inspired writers expect the reader to be familiar with the entire passage when parts and fragments of verses of Scripture are quoted in the Bible.  St. Mark quotes from the first part of Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3:

Malachi was the last legitimate prophet God sent to the covenant people after their return from the Babylonian Exile in the late 6th century BC.  He prophesied that God will send a messenger who will come to the people in the spirit of the prophet Elijah to announce the coming of the Messiah (Mal 3:1, 23-24).  Isaiah was the prophet of the 8th century BC who foretold God's judgment against a sinful and rebellious people that would result in exile.  But Isaiah also prophesied an eventual restoration.  In Isaiah 40:3, in our First Reading, the prophet refers to "the way of the Lord" as the end of the Babylonian exile, the restoration of the covenant people, and the coming of the Messiah. 

St. Mark identifies the unnamed prophetic voice in Isaiah's prophecy.  He declares it is the prophetic voice of John the Baptist who is announcing Jesus' Gospel message of salvation.  It is Jesus of Nazareth who fulfills all the prophecies as the promised Messiah and Davidic king.  It is a fulfillment statement Jesus will make to the Apostles and disciples after His Resurrection: Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures (Lk 24:27), and He said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled" (Lk 24:44).

Mark's statements concerning Jesus' identity in the first three verses of Mark's Gospel are unique compared to the other Synoptic Gospels.  St. Mark does not leave the reader to wonder about the truth of Jesus' identity.  He tells the reader in the first line that Jesus is both the Messiah promised by the prophets and the Son of God! 

4 John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5 People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. 6 John was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist.  He fed on locust and wild honey.
Luke 4:1, St. Luke sets the date of the beginning of St. John's ministry as AD 28, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.  In verses 4-6, Mark recounts the beginning of the fulfillment of God's promise in the one chosen to prepare the way for the Messiah.  In omitting the nativity, infancy or youth of Jesus, St. Mark makes his Gospel begin directly with the preaching of St. John the Baptist who is offering a ritual immersion (meaning of the word "baptism") for repentance and forgiveness of sins on the east side of the Jordan River (Jn 1:28).  The ritual of water purification was a religious practice for purification from that which made one ritually unclean and unfit for worship (Num chapter 19).  It was a bath of purification for Jewish brides on their wedding day, and for Gentiles who converted to become members of the covenant people (Ex 19:9-11).

The angel Gabriel defined St. John the Baptist's mission to John's father, the priest Zechariah, in Luke 1:5-17, 36.  John is the son of a priestly family, a descendant of Aaron, the first high priest of the covenant people, and therefore, also a priest.  The Holy Spirit consecrated St. John in the womb of his mother and gave him the power of the spirit of the prophet Elijah to announce the coming of the Son of God.  His mother was a kinswoman of the Virgin Mary, and therefore John  is also a kinsman of Jesus.

St. Luke's Gospel records that John is six months older than Jesus (Lk 1:36), which means he is five months older than Jesus as we count.  The ancients counted the first month of pregnancy counted as month #1 and therefore a woman was said to be pregnant for ten months (see Wis 7:1-2).  The difference in counting for the ancients (without the concept of a zero place-value) is why Scripture records that Jesus was in the tomb for three days from Friday to Sunday instead of two days as we would count the days ( Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; Lk 9:22; 13:32; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Jn 2:19; Acts 10:10; 1 Cor 15:4).

It is significant that St. Mark describes St. John's manner of dress and meager diet in verse 6.  The people coming to John for his ritual cleansing by water saw that he dressed in the same manner as the great 9th century BC prophet Elijah.  When the angel Gabriel announced John's birth, he told John's father Zechariah that the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah would reside in his son.  The people knew that the return of the prophet Elijah, according to the prophecy of Malachi, would signal the coming of the Messiah, and they would have seen the connection between Elijah and the way John dressed.  What he ate was also significant.  John lived a life of privation in the desert, but he was religiously observant of the dietary laws of the Law of Moses and consumed food from his environment that was ritually clean (see 2 Kng 1:8; Lev 11:22; Lk 1:17).

It is also significant that St. John called the covenant people to a baptism of repentance from their sins on the east side of the Jordan River (Jn 1:28).  It is where the hero Joshua (Yahshua in Hebrew or Yehoshua in Aramaic which is Jesus' name) led the children of Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  And it is where the prophet Elijah, whose spirit rests upon John the Baptist, was taken up into heaven (see Josh chapter 3; 2 Kng 2:5-12).

7 And this is what he proclaimed: "One mightier than I is coming after me.  I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.  8 I have baptized you with water, he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
In verses 7-8, the one described in verses 2-3 speaks, announcing the coming of the One before whom he is unworthy and who "will baptize with the power of the Holy Spirit."  The Baptist is calling the people to repentance of their sins in preparation for the ministry of Jesus the Messiah, Son of God and the announcement of His Kingdom.  Jesus is the greater and John the lesser.  Notice that Mark presents the Baptist according to his mission: he points the way to God the Son, and then he fades away to give prominence to Jesus.

I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
To untie a master's sandals was considered such a demeaning task that it was not a requirement for a Jewish slave (Jewish Talmud: Mek. 21:1; b Ketub. 96a).  "To be unworthy" of such a task would be to lower oneself below the status of a slave (Maloney, Gospel of St. Mark, note 39 page 66).

8 I have baptized you with water, he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
Notice that "he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" is in the future tense.  The baptism of the one who is coming is not the same as John's baptism of repentance.  The 6th century BC prophet Ezekiel promised a baptism by the Holy Spirit in the name of God as a future gift in the Messianic Age (Ez 36:25-27).  So while the promise of the gift is not new, the announcement of the one who will provide the gift is new.  This announcement excited the people who came to accept St. John's ritual cleaning, and they would have connected the promise of this future divine gift with the coming of the promised Davidic Messiah.

The message for the Church today is that we must respond to God like the covenant people in exile in the First Reading and the people of Jesus' generation who submitted to St. John's call for repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah in the Gospel Reading.  We must continually turn back to God through the repentance of our sins.  We must call upon God to show us His mercy, forgiving our sins and restoring us to fellowship with Him.  If we submit to God in this way, when Christ returns as King and Judge, He will find us, as St. Peter wrote, "conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion," and ready for the Good Shepherd to collect His Church and to take us to the New Jerusalem of His heavenly Kingdom.

Catechism References:
Isaiah 40:1-3 (CCC 719); 40:11 (CCC 754)
Psalm 85:11 (CCC 214)
2 Peter 3:9 (CCC 1037, 2822); 3:11-12 (CCC 671); 3:12-13 (CCC 677); 3:13 (CCC 1043, 1405)
Mark 1:1 (CCC 422, 515)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017