Our fantasies and daydreams reveal so much about ourselves. I am not talking about interpretation of dreams which can be helpful I'm told. I am thinking of the frustrations, the loneliness, the anxiety, unrequited desires, the restlessness, that litter our days and nights. The resolution of these feelings form the basis of many fantasies and day dreams. We grow up believing that happiness is our right. Our economy revolves around the pursuit of such happiness by material possessions. Santa Claus doesn't come once a year. He is the daily living image of our consumer lifestyle which promises so much. But our experience is different. We have moments of happiness but we can become sad when we cannot keep those feelings all the time. So there is a loneliness at the heart of us human beings.
St Thomas Aquinas once taught that we can get something either by possession or by desire. We want to possess what we love. Unfortunately, our desires are infinite but our ability to posses what we seek is limited. And if we try to possess that which we love we destroy it. The experience of this internal conflict can make people despair. But to recognise it as our human nature helps us realise that we are more than our limitations. This conflict, surprisingly, can put us in touch with God's desire for us, what the Scripture calls, the reign of God. The fulfilment of our loneliness, the intimacy we all want, the harmony and justice and right living we seek, is the much deeper desire underlying our daydreams and fantasies however vulgar they might be at times.
Advent is about kindling that kind of longing for what is true and real. It is about disturbing us in our fantasies so that we are able to get in touch with God. The wilderness, the desert, is the setting for John the Baptist's preaching of repentance. That picture Mark paints of John in the wilderness reflects something deep within us. Maybe we don't see ourselves that way. But that primitive life style puts before us the limitations we know so well. No matter what we desire or possess we are never fully satisfied. We are at heart alone with our human frailty in the wilderness of our dreaming.
And there, in that wild place, is where God speaks to us and we can hear. It is where we are able to see the real longing beneath our dreams and we know that God who alone can fill us is not far away. Then we will not be afraid of our wandering hearts and it's fantasies. We will not vainly try to control them. Experience tells us that that is not really possible anyway. Rather, we can see them as telling us to look deeper for the source of our joy. That is the kind of repentance called for by Advent. If so we can really appreciate the good things of life not as possessions to be held on to, nor as burdens which we struggle to keep secure from theft, but as gifts from God we can share.
The very first sentence of Mark's Gospel we read today says “The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ the Son of God.” He is about to tell us about the beginning. He was writing to Christians who knew the risen Lord; for whom death and resurrection of Jesus was really good news. They knew Jesus as Son of God. It was liberation, forgiveness, new hope. The life they now knew was the Good News. Mark is going to tell how it all began in story of Jesus. And it all began with John the Baptist in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord by preaching repentance.
John was someone who was able to recognise that his mission was not an end in itself. He knew that his dreams and fantasies of himself were not the answer. His prayed alone in the wilderness stripped of all possessions. This nakedness gave him the sight to know that there is someone to come who is more powerful because he can baptise with the Holy Spirit, the very power of God. People were attracted to him because of his vision. We also have to sit alone for a time to let God speak. Advent time.
We are perhaps familiar with our reading from Isaiah (40:1-5, 9-11) because it is the very opening text of Handel's famous oratorio, Messiah. It is to Isaiah in this passage that we also owe the phrase, “good news” or good tidings. It is a song of great joy and hope. The prophet is told to go up on a high mountain to tell the good news. The good news in this case was that the Hebrew people were about to be released from captivity in Babylon. And it is all God's doing. God is Saviour. It really is an Advent song. Let us also sing it.