Monday, December 10, 2012

Scripture Readings: The Second Sunday of Advent

Before we begin, I would like to make a special shout-out to my friend, Liz Norton, who did a very nice ‘profile’ of me and my blogs the other day. Liz is one of those extra-brilliant people I turn to in order to make myself sound smarter, and her Theology/Angelology blog The Trenchcoat Introspective is well worth checking out.

1st Reading:
Baruch 5: 1-9

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name. For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God's worship.

Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God. Led away on foot by their enemies they left you: but God will bring them back to you borne aloft in glory as on royal Thrones. For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God. The forests and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God's command; for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company

2nd Reading:
Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11

Brothers and sisters:
I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.

God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Gospel: Luke 3: 1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

A voice of one crying out in the desert: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."


First of all, sorry I’m late on posting this.

This week’s readings are mostly about anticipation; looking forward towards the day of the coming of the Lord.

The first reading from Baruch takes place just before the Babylonian exile, when Jerusalem will be razed to the ground and the Jews will be led away in chains from their native land. In the midst of this suffering, however, Baruch tells the people to remember that God has not abandoned them. Rather than mourning for what is passed, they should look forward to the day when God will redeem them. It is only a temporary defeat; God will bring them back once they have been chastised for their sins.

In particular, there is the image of “every mountain laid low and every valley filled.” Now, what does this mean? In the light of the context, I think what we have is a reminder that every nation on Earth, every human power, is only temporary; great nations like Babylon (the “mountains”) and small nations like Judea (the “valleys”) are not particularly important in God’s eyes, or at least are only the means to an end. It’s a reminder that Babylon and Judea will one day be ‘equalized.’
No, not like that!
And this prophecy does indeed come true, even in a strictly literal sense. Babylon and Judea both end up as nothing more than client states in the Persian Empire. Babylon is laid to waste just as Judea was, and in the process the Jews are set free. The mountain has been made low and the valley has been filled.

The Gospel reading, meanwhile, reflects this in describing the beginning of John’s ministry. In his ministry, John is “preparing the way of the Lord, making straight his paths.” This is in preparation for the day when the Lord will “fill every valley and lay low every mountain and hill.” What we have here, then, is Luke saying “what Baruch and Isaiah predicted is actually fulfilled in Jesus; this is the day that Baruch told his people to look forward to and to rejoice in anticipation of; it’s happening right now!”

So how does Jesus fill in the valleys and level the mountains? How does He make the crooked paths straight and the rough ways smooth? He does this by bringing God into the world; now, as St. Paul says, there is no longer “Jew nor Greek, slave or free, man or woman, but all are one in Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). This isn’t to say that those distinctions no longer apply, but that, in the larger sense, they aren’t as important as the fact that Jesus has come. He has given all men a single goal and a single means to achieve that goal. Hence, His famous warnings that “many of the first shall be last, and many of the last shall be first” (Matt. 19: 30) and “He that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger, and he that is the leader, as the servant” (Luke 22: 26).
This is where the rather more cheerful reading from St. Paul comes in. Paul is encouraging the Philippians to persevere; to continue to welcome Jesus into their lives and to become ever more perfect. In other words, he’s telling them to keep the way of the Lord “open” so that He can continue to work on them.

As we progress through Advent, let us try to persevere and keep the way of the Lord open, so that He can make our crooked paths straight and our rough ways smooth. Let’s keep looking forward to that coming day of fulfillment.

Vive Christus Rex!

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