6 December 2015: Second Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Bar 5:1-9  Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6  Phil 1:4-6, 8-11  Lk 3:1-6


Advent: preparing with hope and joy

As we continue our Advent waiting and preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas, the Lectionary calls RCIA participants and the believing community to conversion and to prepare the way.

The first reading is from the book of Baruch. Baruch, a scribe and companion of Jeremiah, lived during the Babylonian exile (597-538 BC). An unknown author writing between 200 and 60 BC composed this book. Today’s reading is from Baruch’s Poem of consolation and hope, which describes the return from Babylon. The Lectionary editors chose this passage because it is full of hope (“take off … mourning and misery,” “God is leading Israel in joy”) and echoes Isaiah’s prophecy quoted in today’s gospel.

The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Philippi ekklesia, is filled with love and hope. Writing from prison in 54 or 55 AD, Paul prays that the Philippians grow in Christian maturity. He prays that their “love should increase in knowledge (literally ‘precise, correct knowledge’) and perception (literally ‘moral discernment’)” so that they will be “pure and blameless” when Christ returns (“the day of Christ”). The Lectionary editors want us to use Advent to “increase in knowledge and perception” as we prepare for the day of Christ at Christmas.

Luke’s gospel focuses on John the Baptizer and his message: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” This is what John preached:

  • Baptism: To baptize (Greek: βαπτίζω) means “to immerse completely in water” or “to dunk.” John’s Jewish audience understood John’s baptism as a ritual washing (Hebrew: tevilah).
  • Repentance: John preaches not simply repentance, but metanoia (Greek: μετάνοια), which means “a change of mind” or “conversion.” John links this interior conversion with the outward public sign of ritual washing.
  • Forgiveness: Luke uses the Greek word aphesis (ἄφεσις), meaning the action of freeing someone from something that confines. Forgiveness is a continuous, ongoing action.
  • Sins: The Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία), here translated as “sin,” is an archery term meaning “to miss the mark.” Hamartia suggests that a failing has “degrees of wrongness,” rather than being simply “a bad action.” Paired with metanoia, hamartia invites us think about what kind of conversion we need to prepare the way of the Lord.

John the Baptizer preaches an inner conversion, or a turning-toward God. The ones who have experienced this conversion mark this event by a public, ritualized immersion that asked God to free them from the guilt and obligations of their past failings. Only when we turn away from hamartia and turn toward God will the obstacles to God’s coming–mountains, ravines, crooked roads, potholes–be cleared away.

During our Advent waiting, the readings urge RCIA participants and the whole believing community to prepare for Jesus’ coming with hope and joy. But we have preparatory work to do. Is metanoia part of our Advent? Are we tearing down our personal mountains and filling up our interior valleys? Have we made straight and smooth the road to our hearts?

–Terence Sherlock


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