'See, the Lord God comes with might....He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms and carry them in His bosom....' -- Is 40:10-11

Our short season of Advent is like a journey through a structured time, helping us to prepare for the coming or "advent" of Jesus Christ.

Last week, we were given our first signpost or marker on this journey: how we are to watch and wait for the Lord. This week, we see and hear the second sign, as St. John the Baptist appears and commands us to "prepare a way for the Lord."

It was the mission of St. John the Baptist to do that: to prepare a way for the coming messiah, Jesus Christ. Even though the Lord has come, we, too, have a mission to prepare a way for Him.

What does this mean and how are we to do it? As always, our Scripture readings show us the way to "prepare a way."

The first reading (Is 40:1-5,9-11) is the beginning of the second part of the book of the prophet Isaiah. The prophet looks to the future at a difficult time for God's chosen people. Be comforted, the prophet writes, for God who seems to be hidden from you will be revealed in all His glory.

A loving God
Isaiah is clear about what this revelation and glory of God looks like. It is God's love and mercy: Sins will be forgiven and the people will be renewed and restored. Writing 1,700 years later, St. Thomas said: "God's all-powerful love shows itself especially in the exercise of divine mercy."

Psalm 85 joyfully sings of this manifestation of God's loving kindness. Our second reading (2 Pt 3:8-14) also takes up the idea of showing God's love and mercy. The Lord does not delay in coming to us and fulfilling His promises to forgive and restore, even if it may feel that way.

We must be ready for the coming of the Lord. But, how can we be prepared? What sort of person should we be? We should be pure and at peace. If not, how will we be able to recognize the Lord as He comes?

Our Gospel (Mk 1:1-8) is also a beginning. It is the beginning of St. Mark's Gospel: his particular account of the "Good News of Jesus Christ." Mark begins by introducing us to the powerful and puzzling figure of St. John the Baptist. John's whole mission in life is to announce how the prophecies (such as the one in our first reading) are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. John is to "prepare a way for the Lord" and be a herald of the Good News.

What about us? The Lord has come already, but we are still to prepare a way for Him in our hearts and to help others prepare, too. After all, the phrase, "Prepare a way for the Lord," also has an image of a way or a journey: The Lord journeys to us.

What if there is something blocking God's path to us? Advent, like Lent, is a season of preparation. Part of this preparation is conversion and penance. That is one reason we use the liturgical color of purple both for Lent and for Advent: It is the color of penance and conversion.

As part of preparations, then, we need to look at what might be "blocking" our relationship with God and, with God's help, make sure that that blockage or those obstacles are removed.

It could be a familiar fault or failing, a less-than-active prayer life or a long-held resentment. Any of these and more can act like roadblocks to being open and welcoming to the Lord.

Unlike St. John the Baptist, we do not need to live in the desert, dress in camel-skin clothes or live on honey and locusts. (Could this be the latest diet fad?) However, we do need to "prepare a way for the Lord," both for ourselves and to help others do the same.

Given all the bad news around, that task is more needed than ever. As the Advent hymn sings: "On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry/announces that the Lord is nigh./Awake and harken, for he brings/glad tidings of the King of kings!/Then cleansed be every life from sin/make straight the way for God within/and let us all our hearts prepare/for Christ to come and enter there."