Second Sunday of Advent – Year C
Gospel Reading: Luke 3:1-6
vs 1. In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,
vs 2. during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.
vs.3 He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
vs.4 as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
vs.5 Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened and
rough roads made smooth.
vs.6 And all mankind shall see the salvation of God
We have four commentators available from whom you may wish to choose .
Michel DeVerteuil :A Trinidadian Holy Ghost Priest, director of the Centre of Biblical renewal .
Thomas O’Loughlin: Prof, MRIA, FRHistS, FSA , President of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain, Director Studia Traditionis Theologiae, University of Nottingham NG7 2RD
Sean Goan:Studied scripture in Rome, Jerusalem and Chicago and now teaches at Blackrock College, Dublin.
Donal Neary SJ: Editor of The Sacred Heart Messenger and National Director of The Apostlship of Prayer.
Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospels
On the second and third Sundays of Advent, the church gives us John the Baptist as a model of someone who knows how to wait. In this first passage we have Luke’s summary of the mission of John the Baptist. It is none other than the mission of Jesus himself and of all preachers of the gospel.
In verses 1 and 2 St Luke invites us to meditate on God’s word which comes to John in the wilderness, bypassing the powerful ones of the world.
Verse 3 is a concise summary of John’s (and Jesus’) preaching.
There are two aspects to verses 4 and 5: the fact that John lived out the vocation of Isaiah, and then the content of his preaching expressed in poetic language. We are invited to identify with both aspects.
Scriptural Prayer Reflections
“I thank you, Father, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.” …Luke 10:21
Lord, we forget your way of doing things.
We think it is important to seek the favour of the great ones of the world,
as if their patronage is necessary for the spread of your gospel,
while we neglect the wisdom of the poor.
But your word has always bypassed
* Tiberius Caesar reigning for 15 years,
* Pilate, the great governor,
* those powerful tetrarchs Herod, Philip and Lysanius,
and come to a humble person, living in the wilderness.
Lord, we remember a time when we were in the wilderness:
* our family relationships were at their lowest level;
* at work everything seemed to be going wrong;
* violence and crime ruled in the country;
* our prayer life was as dry as dust.
Yet within that very wilderness there was a voice within us,
crying out that things would turn out right.
We felt so sure of this that, even in the midst of all that desolation,
we prepared a way for your coming and made the paths straight
so that we would be there to welcome you.
We saw some deep valleys and wondered how we would ever get across them,
but we knew that every one of them would be filled in.
There were high mountains before us; they would all be laid low.
The road was winding, so that every time we turned a corner another one appeared;
it would be straightened. As for the rough roads that had our feet sore and bleeding,
they would become smooth as glass.
We knew for sure that we would experience your salvation.
Thank you, Lord.
“We live in a world where no one cares.” … School principal, Trinidad, WI
Lord, we pray that in our heartless world the church may, like John the Baptist, fulfil what is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah,
and be a voice crying out to those who feel themselves in a wilderness
that you have not abandoned them, that every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill laid low,
winding ways will be straightened and rough roads made smooth.
“If all people are God’s children, why are we rejoicing when our sons and daughters are safe while death and destruction is wreaked upon innocent people?” …Religious Superiors of the USA after the Gulf War
Lord, we still need John the Baptist to teach us your will that all must see your salvation.
“A critical ingredient of the Caribbean today is collective self-knowledge as the vital pre-condition to collective self-possessiveness.”… Lloyd Best
Lord, give us the grace to know that what we are doing today
is already written in the books of the sayings of the prophets.
Liturgical Resources for the Year of Matthew
Introduction to the Celebration
Why do we gather here each Sunday to celebrate the sacred meal of the Lord? Because as we say later: when we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Now in Advent we recall the past when Jesus first gathered disciples, but we also remember the future when he will come again in glory. Then we will be delivered from all that binds us, but before then we must take John the Baptist as our model: ‘we must prepare a way for the Lord’ within the world we live in.
1. We can view repentance in two ways. Looking backwards it can be a question of making up for what has been done in the past. Looking forwards it can be getting the matter sorted out and making sure that, as far as possible, the problem does not come back. As with all such ‘two ways of looking at something’, people will then say that this is just a matter of whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, or whether you think that the bottle is half-full or half-empty. But the issue of repentance is more complicated that just manifestations of two ways of looking at life. We can see this by asking which view is embodied in most institutions in the societies to which we belong? We want criminals to go to prison: it is a time to ‘pay back‘ for the past. We want criminals ‘to get what they deserve’ on account of their deeds in the past. We want compensation for the past, we want reparation for the past, and we very often want vengeance. Penitence – as the word is used in such words as penitentiary or penal – is linked to a belief that if someone has done something wrong, then later they must suffer for that crime, and somehow that later suffering ‘makes up for the past’. How it could make up for the past is another question: we seem to certainly want ‘people to pay’. This notion that penitence is linked to the past, that it is someone’ getting his /her just deserts’, is found in every society. Indeed, paying up for the past with suffering is often seen as the essence of justice. The people who come out of a court when a criminal who has hurt them has been sentenced to a long sentence often say ‘we have finally got justice!’
2. This is certainly the human perspective, but is it something that we as Christians who believe in a God of love can accept as just a ‘fact of life’? Certainly, many Christians in the past, and indeed today, imagine God as the great score-settler: if people don’t pay in this life, then ‘divine justice’ will get them in the end. Hell, then, is imagined as God’s final reckoner. Indeed, many contemporary Christians are schizophrenic about hell: they find it repulsive to believe in hell for themselves, but are quite happy that it should be there so that God can finally grind out his justice – on others. But is this view, however common, an adequate expression of what Christians hold as their story of God’s dealing with humanity?
3. The prophets – we have the examples of Isaiah and John the Baptist in today’s readings — were in no doubt that people sinned and that the people of God had fallen into sin. Yet, when they call the people ‘to repent’ they start looking forward not backwards. To repent is to start anew, to make sure that the former ways disappear, that a new way of living appears. The repentance is the act of preparing the way for the Lord to Come along. Repentance is change so that in the future all can see the salvation of God.
4. Christians have never been in doubt that humanity had fallen into sin and needed a redeemer. But to say it needed a redeemer is to look forward. God’s justice was never the destruction of the sinful people, but to send his Son to us.
When Jesus came he was not here to punish for the past, but to be the redeemer who would open up the future after sin and its effects. Jesus called us to a new way of living, he did not come ‘to call to account’ for the past.
5. When the church has preached penitence, it is as a medicine to train the person in a new way of living. We come as sick people to the source of healing (St Thomas). ‘God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins’ (Formula of Absolution). God is love, not vengeance – but this is a very hard notion for us to grasp and to believe. The problem is as old as Ezekiel:
‘Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?’ (18:23);
‘For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God; so turn, and live’ (18:32);
‘Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, 0 house of Israel?’ (33:11).
And we, two millennia after seeing how God deals with his people – he sent them the Christ whose coming we are preparing to celebrate – seem to have as much difficulty in looking forward and seeing repentance as starting afresh with God’s love.
6. But believing that God gives a new future to those who turn to a new way of thinking, living, acting, loving is just part of the task. We are called not merely to follow the Christ who brought the Father’s love in his coming among us. We are called to become like him in our lives. As there is no place for vengeance, and no place for getting a ‘pay back’ for the past in God dealing with us; then there must be a similar desire to let people start over again among us. This is what we pray:
‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’
7. Christmas recalls God’s great new start with humanity: Jesus the New Adam. We hear that proclaimed today in the call to repent and to prepare the way. But if we want Jesus to come within our own lives today as he once came in Bethlehem, then we must be prepared to turn from notions of vengeance and become people of forgiveness who look forward. Looking forward is far more difficult than looking backwards – we should honestly admit that as a fact about the human condition, most of us both as individuals and as groups are better at raking over old hurts than at looking for new ways to co-operate with one another. Yet it is only when we adopt this habit of looking forward that we can truly become Christ-like. We see Jesus’s way of looking forward in what he said to the woman they wanted to stone as payment for her past:
‘Go your way, and from now on do not sin again‘ ..8:11). The task was to set out into the future: ‘Go‘; and start a new way of living: ‘do not sin again’.
8. We are looking forward to Christmas: the Christ we seek to welcome calls us to look forward in the way we live – this is repentance and preparing the way; and he calls us to look forward to his own coming in glory.
Let the reader understand
Luke begins his account of the ministry of Jesus by putting it in its historical context. He tells us about who was in charge in the worlds of politics and religion and then introduces us to someone who was something of a threat to them both. John the Baptist is presented as inviting the people to repent, to turn again to God and to show their desire to do this by being baptised – a symbolic washing. In so doing John is seen as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah in which there is a call to remove every obstacle that might stand in the way of God showing his salvation to his people. This gospel reminds us of one of the key themes of Advent: repentance.
Repentance and its associated colour purple remind many people of the season of Lent rather than Advent but it is not difficult to see why it is so central to our preparation for the coming of Jesus. Without it, the season of Christmas can simply slide into an excuse for over-indulgence, an opportunity to party in an effort to get over the darkness of winter. These readings show the true meaning of repentance, for they speak about leaving aside anything that might blind us to what God wants for us, and opening ourselves to something new and wonderful and beyond our wildest dreams: God coining in the person of his Son.
Donal Neary SJ
All reminds us God is near
A poet wrote: ”when I am an old woman I shall wear purple‘, to remind her that life can be different day by day or that she might be personally noticed and change her life. This time of the year the Church wears purple and we remind ourselves that Jesus is near, that life can be different and that we can change our lives.
The gospel from John the Baptist encourages a change in our lives. We would look on ourselves and regret what we should regret – our sins, our meanness, our minor faults and failings, our injustices and hurt of others. In his time the people would immerse themselves in the river and be forgiven. We can immerse ourselves in the healing and forgiving love of God in many ways, including the sacrament of reconciliation (penance, confession). We can immerse ourselves in the mood of waiting for Christmas, and take this on the spiritual level and well as the ordinary.
All of the weeks of Advent can be a preparation for the way of the Lord, which we will hear of during the readings of the coming year. This is a time of joyful waiting, knowing we cannot be let down. The purple of Advent is not the purple of mourning but of joyful anticipation – like when we dress in the football team’s colours early in the morning to look forward to a match.
If we take time for the spiritual preparation with some prayer, sacraments (maybe go to Mass once or twice a week, or daily for Advent), and if we help our neighbour a bit more than usual, then nothing of all the preparations can be just secular. Everything of this month can remind us of God… trees, lights, carols, parties, Santa hats, cards, gift-buying – big reminders that God is near.
Give us this day our daily bread and daily truth, Lord God.