SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (2021)
Readings:Baruch 5:1-9Psalms 126:1-6Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11Luke 3:1-6
I begin by ‘borrowing’ unabashedly from the beginning of Sr. Mary McGlone’s weekly homily, written for the National Catholic Reporter:
In the seventh year of the papacy of Francis, bishop of Rome, when Antonio Gutteres was Secretary General of the United Nations,Ursula van der Leyden was president of the European commission, Archbishop Jose Gomez led the U.S. conference of Catholic Bishops, and Joseph Biden was president of the United States, the world, plagued by climate change and still reeling from the COVID 19 pandemic, wondered where to find signs of hope.
Sister McGlone’s paraphrase of Luke’s gospel reminds us of two things: that Jesus was born into a particular space and time, and that every generation searches for the hope which makes life worth living. In today’s gospel from Luke the hope that is essential is meant to be seen in the figure of “John the son of Zechariah,” who we will later refer to simply as the Baptist. John is already at his vocation of “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” at a time of “Caesar, Herod, Pontius Pilate, Annas and Caiphas”, characters whose names point us, at the beginning of Luke’s gospel, in the direction of where the gospel will end.
John is the fulfillment of the prophet Baruch’s vision (first reading) of the Israelites triumphantly returning from their exile, and so that nothing will impede their advance, “God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground.” Here Baruch echoes a passage from Isaiah that is used by Luke. All three authors wish to draw attention to the hope that lies on the horizon, a hope brought closer to fulfillment when the child born in chapter 2 of Luke’s infancy narrative, comes to John in the Jordan to be baptized. It is thirty years after His birth, and Jesus sets an example for “all the people being baptized,” for there is no need for a “forgiveness of sins, a point made clear when the heavens “were opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ [3:21-22].”
The names which ground Luke’s gospel in time, are also a sign of the kind of evil, lack of repentance, that challenges the execution of God’s will. The notorious Herod will be the first in Luke’s gospel to show his true colors, for when confronted by John about his marriage he accedes to Salome’s encouragement to take John the Baptist’s life. As we are well aware, the other historical names mentioned by Luke will be involved in the taking of Jesus’ life, which they had hoped would erase the memory of Jesus from the history books. No one, not even the disciples who had been forewarned, counted on the Resurrection, a moment when hope was reborn.
The paraphrase by Sr. McGlone is no exercise in frivolity, for in every documented age, Jesus continues to come to us, to break into our world no matter how lacking in repentance its kings, potentates, politicians, dictators might be. The hope filled message of Advent is “God is with us.” The hills and challenges of life will be made low; nothing, no one, can prevent God’s Son from reaching out to us and beckoning us to recognize our need for repentance. It is in recognizing all humankind’s need for repentance that we find genuine hope. From the time of Abraham and the prophets, through the time of Herod and Pontius Pilate, up until the present time, God is watching us and wanting to be with us. He is willing to level the mountains of our distress, He is desirous of filling in our valleys of despair. All that is desired of us is a willing heart, a heart desirous of forgiveness. May these days of Advent remind us that our God is Emmanuel, God with us, and may our hearts be filled with a proper understanding of our need for forgiveness.
We close with our second reading’s beautiful prayer from Philippians:
“May your love increase ever more and moreIn 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 righteousnessThat comes through Jesus ChristFor the glory and praise of God.”