Second Sunday of Advent (A)
4 December 2016
PRAYER TO THE HOLY SPIRIT
Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life, your coming was announced by John the Baptist who went about the desert preaching repentance and crying out “Prepare the way of the Lord!” In this Advent Season, come upon us too, that we may prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
LECTIO. What does the Biblical text say?
1 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
“A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”
4 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him 6 and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
7 When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10 Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
MEDITATIO. What does the Lord say in His Word?
Some insights on the Word.
PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD
Our preparation for the coming of Jesus brings us to the original starting point of the four canonical gospels, where they all agree: that the ministry of Jesus begins with the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt 3:1–12; Mark 1:2–8; Luke 3:1–20; John 1:6–8, 13–28). In the chronology of the gospel story (apart from the infancy narratives), therefore, John the Baptist leads to Jesus.
The place setting is the desert of Judea, the barren region west of the Dead Sea, a place of arid rock. This actualizes the words from Isaiah that the evangelist quotes and applies to John the Baptist: a voice of one crying out in the desert. The image of “a voice in the desert” seems to suggest futility. Who would go to the desert to listen to a voice? But there are indeed people who are in the desert. Many of those who find themselves in the desert are those who have lost their way, or those who seek peace and quiet, or those who are in transit looking for pasture land. The words that the voice in the prophecy of Isaiah cries out are fitting for these people:
“Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths!”
John the Baptist translates preparing the way and straightening the Lord’s paths as “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The Greek verb used for “repent” is metanoeo, which means to “have a serious change of mind and heart about a previous point of view or course of behavior.” This is especially in the face of extraordinary developments. This extraordinary development is the coming of the kingdom of heaven. The coming of the kingdom should bring about a drastic change in the person—a change of mind and heart. John is the first one who proclaims this coming of the kingdom, and later, it will be the core of the preaching of Jesus. John’s proclamation of the kingdom is therefore twofold: it is not just the kingdom that is coming, but the kingdom is at hand because Jesus, who comes, will preach the coming of this kingdom.
John had the garb of a prophet, reminiscent of the prophet Elijah who “wore a hairy garment with a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kings 1:8). This, plus his diet of locusts and wild honey, tells us of the austere life of the man.
The voice of the prophet in the desert was heeded after all, for we come to know that “Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan” went to John. They listened to the call to repent, for they acknowledged their sins and were baptized—and this was a baptism of repentance!
We find a preview of the groups whom Jesus would meet in his ministry, the Pharisees and Sadducees, who believed in John, for they were coming to his baptism. He calls them out and emphasizes genuine repentance: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” They cannot claim entitlement for being children of Abraham, for what matters is not their origin but the good fruit that they should bear. The consequences for not bearing good fruit will be severe—to be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Here is where John the Baptist presents Jesus. Jesus is the one who is coming after him who is mightier than him, one whose sandals he is not worthy to carry, one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The images that follow are rustic, a metaphor for the harvest—winnowing fan, threshing floor, wheat, the barn, chaff and fire. The action of Jesus is like that of a peasant in the last stages of the harvest, the separation of the wheat from the chaff, an echo of John the Baptist’s reference to those who bear good fruit and those who do not, those who are truly repentant and those who are not.
The season of Advent brings us all to this scene of the preaching of John the Baptist. John logically leads us to Jesus. John invites us to repent; the voice of the Lord, “to prepare his way”… to bear good fruit. The coming of Jesus compels us to be wheat rather than chaff. We are called to metanoia, a serious change of heart.
Questions for meditation:
- “A voice of one crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” How do I prepare the way of the Lord? What are the paths am I called to make straight?
- What do I need to change in my life—point of view, attitude, way of thinking, lifestyle? What will make me bear fruit?
ORATIO. What do we say to the Lord, motivated by His Word?
This is the time for invocation. Prayer is responding to God after having listened to him. It is our assent to his will and his plan for us. Saint Augustine says, “Your prayer is talking to God. When you read Sacred Scripture, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God.” We spend about 5 minutes in silence lifting our words to God.
After our moment of silence, we shall altogether say Psalm 72:
2 O God, give your judgment to the king;
your justice to the king’s son;
That he may govern your people with justice,
your oppressed with right judgment,
3 That the mountains may yield their bounty for the people,
and the hills great abundance,
4 That he may defend the oppressed among the people,
save the children of the poor and crush the oppressor.
5 May they fear you with the sun,
and before the moon, through all generations.
6 May he be like rain coming down upon the fields,
like showers watering the earth,
7 That abundance may flourish in his days,
great bounty, till the moon be no more.
8 May he rule from sea to sea,
from the river to the ends of the earth.
9 May his foes kneel before him,
his enemies lick the dust.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute,
the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts.
11 May all kings bow before him,
all nations serve him.
12 For he rescues the poor when they cry out,
the oppressed who have no one to help.
13 He shows pity to the needy and the poor
and saves the lives of the poor.
14 From extortion and violence he redeems them,
for precious is their blood in his sight.
15 Long may he live, receiving gold from Sheba,
prayed for without cease, blessed day by day.
16 May wheat abound in the land,
flourish even on the mountain heights.
May his fruit be like that of Lebanon,
and flourish in the city like the grasses of the land.
17 May his name be forever;
as long as the sun, may his name endure.
May the tribes of the earth give blessings with his name;
may all the nations regard him as favored.
18 Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel,
who alone does wonderful deeds.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may he fill all the earth with his glory.
Amen and amen.
CONTEMPLATIO. What conversion is asked for by the contemplation of the Lord?
Having lifted our prayers to the Lord, we simply rest in His presence. He has used his Word to invite us to accept His transforming embrace. Let his words linger, ever now as we feel him in his wordless, quiet presence. Let the rest of our week, especially those moments that we choose to spend in silence, be a time to simply enjoy the experience of being in the presence of God.
Fr. Joel N. Camaya, SDB
SALESIANS OF DON BOSCO
Philippines – North Province