An important word is immediately. Jesus does something and then immediately does something else or quickly moves on to another place. By this we get a strong feeling of movement and progress in Jesus’ ministry.
And in Mark there is a stronger emphasis on the conflicts Jesus has with the authorities. This is immediately evident here in the account we are given today of John the Baptist. He is everything the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees are not.
They are in the Temple, he is in the wilderness. They live luxurious lives, he lives a primitive life. They are unpopular, he is immensely popular. They are proud, he is humble. He proclaims the immanent coming of the Messiah, they do everything they can to obscure his coming. And the more you look the more you will see further contrasts between them.
It is important that John proclaims the Advent of the Messiah in the wilderness. The desert for him is a symbol of the religious situation of Israel.
They were formerly a people with great faith and trust in God who had led them into the Promised Land. But now the religious authorities were content with a comfortable, outwardly-conforming sort of religion and see no room or reason for change.
John attracts the common people into the wilderness to hear his message of repentance so that they are purified and spiritually ready for the coming of the Messiah. They perceive him to be a genuine prophet and are convinced by his message.
That he proclaims his message in the hardship of the wilderness gives his message an added air of authenticity.
Advent itself is designed by the Church to be a sort of liturgical wilderness to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ. During Advent everything in the liturgy is more sombre and stripped of adornment. It is designed to be a time of reflection and repentance. We are asking to pay renewed attention to prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Our difficulty today is that Advent is completely overlooked by society at large. Even in these financially straightened times Advent is swept aside in favor of a frenzied consumerist preparation for Christmas.
We should do what we can to create some space in our lives and in our homes so that we can keep Advent in a proper way. But I fully appreciate that this is a lot easier said than done.
John the Baptist never attempted to draw people to himself; his first and foremost concern was to point people in the direction of God and to warn them to prepare themselves for the immanent coming of the Messiah.
This is our task too; not to proclaim how wonderful and worthy we are but to point people to Christ and to tell them about his goodness and how true salvation is to be found in him.
Like John we are road-menders; it is our task to open up paths along which Christ can travel.
We cannot bestow God’s grace upon a person. We cannot bring about a conversion. We are unable to enkindle the gift of faith in another, let alone in our own lives. Only God can do these things.
Neither does he need our help, just as Jesus never needed John’s help. But God invites us to carry out this task, just as Jesus went along with John and submitted himself to Baptism at John’s hands.
We can guide our children in the ways of faith. We can pray with them and discuss together all kinds of religious issues but ultimately the choice of whether to turn to the Lord or not is theirs and theirs alone.
The road to faith is full of rocks and deep potholes. If we can help those around us by leveling the path we will be doing the work of God.
Sometimes this might simply mean giving good example. On other occasions it might be clarifying the teaching of Christ to those who misunderstand it. Or it might mean helping someone to interpret particular events in their lives so that they can more clearly see the hand of God at work.
There are many such ways to be a John the Baptist in our world today, many ways to pave the way for the coming of Christ into the lives of those around us.
Advent is a time of waiting and readiness. But there is nothing passive about it. Although it lasts only a month in the Liturgical Calendar it actually lasts a whole lifetime ■
 Sunday 7th December, 2008, 2nd Sunday of Advent. Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11. Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation— Ps 84(85):9-14. 2 Peter 3:8-14. Mark 1:1-8 [St Ambrose].