December 9, 2018
2nd SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)
Readings: Baruch 5: 1-9; Psalm 126; Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11; Luke 3: 1-6
by Jude Siciliano, OP
What an unusual beginning today’s gospel passage has! Usually such passages open with expressions like: “At that time. . .,” ” In those days. . .,” ” Early in the morning. . . .,” “On the Sabbath. . .,” etc. Or, some narratives begin with no allusion to time or place at all: “Jesus said to the crowds. . .,” “Jesus addressed this parable to the crowds. . . ,” etc. How different today’s gospel is: half of it is dedicated to dates, places and specific people of authority. ” In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. . . . etc. ” Luke is too careful a writer not to have something in mind. His specificity suggests a message– the actions of God on our behalf have taken place in very concrete ways—on certain days and in particular places. In other words, God acts in our human history in specific and discernible ways. This unique Gospel opening invites us to look over the realities of our own lives and to notice God’s gracious acts on our behalf in the daily routines—- through the almost casual events and repetitious happenings at home, work, leisure and worship.
But God also enters our lives in entirely new and unpredictable ways. The gospel suggests that at a particular moment in the world’s history, while civil and religious powers ruled in their own worlds of influence, God stepped in to change the course of events, to introduce to the world a whole new way of living. God spoke a word to John in the desert, and from that barren and still place the word was heard and passed on to others.
It may seem idealistic to encourage people to take time out for quiet and reflection at a time of the year that drives most of us to distraction and frantic activity. But some kind of desert moment does seem to be the necessary atmosphere for hearing God. It needn’t take much time. I know a letter carrier who, on his way in from his delivery route, stops off at a church for five minutes each day. He says, “I like the quiet, it soothes me. My life is so busy and crazy these days.” He is doing an Advent practice. “The word of God came to “N”….in the desert.” Fill in your own name here; God doesn’t restrict the word to just a select few. In fact, the gospel shows us today that, though people like Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Annas and Caiaphus may have been prominent and well known by the populace of their day, God chose to speak to an obscure itinerant preacher in the hill country of Judea.
The desert is such a rich biblical symbol. Devout people in John’s time were attuned to their religious history. The desert played an important role for the Jews; it through the desert that they escaped from Egyptian slavery. It was also where God spoke to them, revealed God’s name and led them day by arduous day to the land of promise. From their desert experience the people learned that God’s advent – God’s coming to fulfill the long awaited promise – happens after a period of preparation and high expectation. Our Advent waiting and yearning also have the same potential for fulfillment.
John the Baptist plays a prominent role in all the gospels, but particularly in Luke. (For example, the evangelist presents us with the accounts of both John and Jesus’ annunciations and births.) John hears the word in the desert and preaches “throughout the whole region of the Jordan.” The Jordan was another important place in the faith life of the Jewish believers. After their desert wanderings the people crossed over the Jordan river into the promise land. They left behind slavery, came to know God in the desert and were finally prepared by God to cross into new life. Today this reference to the Jordan’s water reminds us Christians of our baptism.
Those baptismal waters were not just part of some past ritual; they initiated us into a new way of life. These waters have accompanied us throughout our lives; they led us out of slavery, traveled with us across our own desert terrain and bubbled up at important moments when we would have given up, or when we lost our way. Advent is a time to call on our baptismal identity to ask for help: to straighten out our life’s path if it has developed twists and turns; to lower the mountains and hills we have built to separate us from family members and the world around us; to fill in the valleys of our emptiness and longing for God.
There are lots of instances of change in today’s readings. The Baruch reading starts with a change of clothing, “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory.” There is also a change of name; the people in exile are told that the devastated Jerusalem will be given a new name, “the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.” John the Baptist calls people to change and show the results of change – that our valleys are filled, our paths are made straight and mountains and hills lowered. Advent is a time of change as we struggle to hear God’s Word and do our best to respond to it. This Word opens our hearts, and fills us with the hope that we can more fully turn back to our God. Like the Jews journeying across the desert to their promised place, our hope is stirred for what lies ahead. Our God accompanies us on our journey, as Baruch promised, “…God will bring them back to you…God is leading Israel in joy…by the light of God’s glory….”
We remember hearing in other gospel passages that John made people uncomfortable. No one, then or now, wants to hear that they must change. Maybe John had to preach out in the desert because neither Roman rulers nor high religious authorities wanted him in court or temple precincts. He would have upset the status quo and challenged the compromises religious leadership had worked out with the secular government. This “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” sounds like sacrifice is going to be asked of us, as well as an admission of wrong doing. Our society doesn’t like that kind of talk. Neither do religious institutions. In the recent church scandals, some of those sinned against said they just wanted church leaders to admit they were wrong and give them a sincere apology.
John says that God is about to break into our lives. Advent does not carry the same tone of penitence that Lent does. Nevertheless, openness to the next thing God wants to do in our lives may first require from us what John was asking at the Jordan’s waters – “repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” Our baptismal waters assure us that forgiveness is readily available. In addition, this season reminds us that God is also ever ready to speak again at this present stage of our journey. We noted that Luke is very specific about the time and place God spoke the Word to John. The evangelist is also telling us that at THIS time and in THIS place God has a Word for us. Not only for us as individuals, but for this worshiping community. When such a Word is received with a ready heart, we are gently carried further along our way to God. Our church, recently tripped up, needs to hear that Word anew this day, in this place of worship, for we must be a sign to the world, that a new and healed life is possible.
The setting has changed since the prophet John was called by God’s Word in the desert – but not as much as it first seems. We too are in the wilderness, though we live in great cities and brush shoulders with many people constantly. We live in the wilderness of isolation that, as Karl Rahner reminds us, has no center and is not a home for us. We too must also confront the beasts in our wilderness: beasts of aggression, war, competition, greed, and the lust for still more property and power. We in the church must be a sign that another way of living is possible where there are no hills, mountains, valleys or crooked roads to separate us from each other.
John the Baptist was expecting something wonderful and new to happen, “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caeasar….” We pray that this Advent will open our eyes to see the wonderful and new things God is promising for us, in this present moment and in this place.
Palabras para Domingo
9 de diciembre, 2018
Lecturas: Baruc 5:1-9; Filipenses 1:4-6, 8-11; Lucas 3:1-6
En las Sagradas Escrituras parece que la Buena Nueva muchas veces llega durante momentos de crisis o de gran dolor. En la lectura del profeta Baruc, escuchamos unas palabras de aliento, de esperanza y de alivio- en medio de una experiencia de exilio. Jerusalén, la ciudad que simbolizó la grandeza del pueblo, había caída en desgracia. Pero el profeta la presenta en su esplendor, cuando dejará sus vestidos de luto y aflicción y se vestirá con gloria, envuelta en un manto de justicia. En nombre de Dios, el profeta ofrece al pueblo de Israel una visión de la fidelidad de Dios, el Dios que no dejará a su pueblo en su desgracia.
En el Evangelio de San Lucas, encontramos la misma situación de opresión. Lucas nos cuenta por nombre toda una lista de opresores que hicieron sufrir al pueblo. Y Lucas dice claramente que era dentro de esta historia que llegó la palabra de Dios a Juan, él que predicaba un bautismo de penitencia. Escuchamos la voz del profeta Isaías, “Preparen el camino del Señor…porque todos verán la salvación de Dios. La promesa de salvación viene dentro de la historia y depende solamente de la iniciativa de Dios.
Creo que es bueno recordar hoy, el segundo domingo de Adviento, que debemos nosotros situar la llegada de Dios en la Navidad dentro de la historia humana de nuestros días. Si, es verdad que pensamos en la llegada de Cristo como niño en un pesebre en Belén, pero la Iglesia nos dice que debemos estar esperándole también en nuestro tiempo, en la realidad humana en que vivimos. Está llegando- la Palabra Encarnada, en este tiempo cuando tanta gente está sufriendo. Vemos la violencia contra inmigrantes en nuestra frontera, el miedo en las familias que no tienen documentos, la devastación de los incendios en California, los millares de personas sufriendo de hambre, los que sufren del desempleo, y siempre los que sufren de cáncer y otras enfermedades.
¿Qué sentido tiene la llegada de Cristo este año? Es lo mismo como en la primera Navidad. No es una especia de magia que quita todos los males del mundo. Es más bien una manifestación del amor de Dios que no nos deja solos. En la renovación de la promesa de Dios que podemos llegar a la liberación, a la salvación, a la alegría de la solidaridad humana, porque Dios está con nosotros. Es una aclaración de la santidad de la vida humana, una vida que es un compartir en la misma vida de Dios. El Adviento es tiempo para preparar los caminos de nuestra vida para que, junto a la comunidad humana, podemos llegar “limpios e irreprochables al día de la venida de Cristo, llenos de los frutos de la justicia, que nos viene de Cristo Jesús para gloria y alabanza de Dios”.
El Adviento es una invitación de quedarnos tranquilos, en medio de la confusión de este tiempo. Debemos buscar unos momentos cada día para enfocarnos en la visión de justicia y de amor que Dios tiene para nuestro mundo y para preguntarnos qué papel podemos jugar en su creación. La Navidad no es un escape de nuestra realidad, sino un impulso hacia su verdadero sentido. La Palabra Encarnada sigue llegando dentro de las crisis de la historia y el dolor de la vida humana.
Hoy escuchamos palabras de esperanza y de alegría. Hay que recordar que nuestra esperanza no es un sueño. Más bien nuestra esperanza se basa en la promesa de un Dios que nos tiene tanto amor que hasta comparte nuestra carne y se da para siempre en la Eucaristía.
Bendiciones a todos, sg