We live in hope Is 40:1-5, 9-11; Ps 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14; 2 Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8 One of my professors who taught us liturgy used to caution us about trying to make the celebration of daily Eucharist in a parish too long or too extravagant. Most people who come on a regular basis to daily Mass come for quiet spiritual nourishment at the beginning of their day. In his memorable words: “Don’t try to make every Eucharist like opening night at the Met!” I have often thought of this advice, not just about the liturgy but also about our daily Christian life. Most of us, I observe, say our prayers, and go about our everyday lives as best we can and with as much virtue as we can muster. But there are moments when it is appropriate to lift up our heads and think of the big picture, to experience something like “opening night at the Met.” I think of Advent this way. These weeks leading up to Christmas invite us to step back for a moment from our daily concerns and dare to think of our ultimate destiny as human beings. What is our final future? We know that all of us face the inevitable experience of dying and that is something to think about from time to time. But what about beyond death? Is there life beyond death? Advent invites us to believe that God will give us abundant and everlasting life even beyond the frontier of death. We strive to believe this not because we ourselves have some control over this or that science is someday going to allow us to live forever. We long to believe this because God has promised it to us. That is the sole basis of our hope. This is the message of the readings for this Second Sunday of Advent. The first is a soaring passage from Isaiah. “Comfort, give comfort to my people,” God tells the prophet. In words that John the Baptist will echo in announcing the appearance of Jesus at the Jordan River, the prophet cries out in the desert that “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people shall see it together.” The message to be proclaimed from the mountaintops is not to fear, for “Here is your God! ... 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.” The other readings echo the same vibrant hope. Responsorial Psalm 85 exults in God’s promised future: “Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.” We hear a similar message from the Second Letter of Peter. The author pleads with his fellow Christians not to grow weary in hoping for God’s future: “But according to God’s promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” As usual, it is the Gospel selection that sets the tone for all the readings on a given Sunday. Today we hear from the opening verses of the Gospel of Mark, which is the Gospel that will dominate the Sunday readings throughout this liturgical year. The title of Mark’s narrative is: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The original Greek word for “gospel” is “euaggelion,” which mean literally, “good news.” For the evangelist, the entire account of Jesus’ life is good news because Jesus, the embodiment of God’s abiding love, will conquer death and bring unending life to our world. Mark’s first lines draw on the hope-filled message of Isaiah to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” This is what the last and greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist, will proclaim to God’s people Israel that encourages them to renew their lives and to believe in the good news. That good news of God’s enduring love appears in the very person of Jesus for whom John prepares the way. Advent dares us, even in hard times like these, to believe that our deepest longings for peace, for unending life, are, in fact, God’s own desire for us. This is our ultimate reason to hope.