Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6
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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
JOHN’S MESSAGE FOR US
John’s message is a key theme in Advent season. He invites us to repent, prepare the way of the Lord and lower the mountains of pride so that we can see the salvation of God. This message came to John the Baptist in the wilderness. Very quickly, the wilderness is an integral part of John’s mission, as it was for Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Amidst today’s hustle and bustle; hurly burly we all the wilderness experience to help stay apart a while so that we can be of more relevance to God and our generation. Again, beyond geographical solitude Christians must desire interior solitude. For, if the mind has not attained stillness geographical solitude is futile. The wilderness whether geographical or interior is a place where God’s message is birthed. Thus, we have the message of John today. Let us now relate with this message.
- John came “preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin”. The basic message of the patriarchs, prophets, Jesus and even the apostles is the message of repentance. Beloved, the kingdom of God is at hand; no repentance no entrance. Again, this message also implies that baptism is necessary for repentance and for the forgiveness of sins. How many of us are baptized today? It’s sad that many churches today do not reckon with baptism; even if they do, how do they administer baptism? Many preachers are doctrinally lost today and they have lured many into disbelieving and trivializing the message of repentance, baptism and salvation.
- John says “Prepare the way of the Lord make his paths straight”. As we await Christ’s coming, preparation time is never a wasted time. When we fail to prepare; we are preparing to fail. This is the season of preparation either for end of year parties, Christmas events, carols; dress, gifts, cards or food stuffs. Everyone is looking forward and getting ready for Christmas. ‘Looking forward’ and ‘getting ready’ are basic Christian activities. As Christians we are expected to look forward and get ready for what lies ahead. Beyond looking forward and getting ready for Christmas let us look forward and get ready for the second coming of Christ through conversion. Let us make his paths straight through proper examination of conscience; retreat; penance and the likes.
- John says “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight”. We must remove the mountains of pride; this is a season we should make the crooked straight and the rough places in our life smooth. Again, let us ask ourselves if the paths we follow are often crooked? Do they divert us from our eternal goal? Let us make our paths straight. What is that mountain in your life that is militating against your eternal destiny? Advent says; break it and level it. Lastly, what are the valleys that should be filled? Valleys refer to the gaps between the faith we profess and the daily life we lead. Is my faith in consonant with my life?
- John says “The rough ways shall be made smooth”. Beloved, rough ways are made smooth by sincere effort to reconcile when we offend others. We smoothen rough ways when we spread love; share our goods; assist a friend or a brother; care for the sick, speak the truth, speak kindly and carry out good deeds.
- John says “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God”. Beloved, when we truly repent, prepare for Christ, smoothen the rough ways and straighten the crooked paths we shall definitely see the salvation of God. Salvation is the goal. In the first reading Baruch captures this better when he says that the Lord will save his people and his city will become a place of beauty to which all will return triumphantly. The goal is for all of us to return triumphantly and not be defeated. In the words of St. Paul in the second reading it is my prayer that God who has begun this good work in us should bring it to completion. Amen.
- LET US PRAY: Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heaven wisdom grain us admittance to his company. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen!
Fr. Galadima Bitrus
CONSTRUCTING THE WAY OF/TO JESUS
The readings today invite us to prepare for the coming of the Lord employing principally the metaphor of road construction: making low high places, filling up valleys, making crooked paths straight, making smooth rough ways.
The 1st Reading is from the book of Baruc 5:1-9: the oracle of salvation. Baruc is one of the books that formed part of the Greek Old Testament Canon, which are, however, missing in protestant Bible translations as a result of their having removed them, privileging only books that appeared in the Hebrew Canon of the Old Testament.
It must be kept in mind, however, that the Greek Old Testament is what was mostly read in the time of the New Testament, the time of Jesus and early Christians. Most New Testament references to the Old Testament cite from the Greek Canon.
Baruc is portrayed as the scribe or secretary to the prophet Jeremiah and like his master, was part of the remnant left in Judah during the Babylonian captivity (cf. Jer 32; 36; 43; 45). The book speaks majorly of the confession of the people’s sins, which are identified as the ultimate reasons for the exile. Through their confession and conversion, the people express confidence in the Lord’s salvation, which will culminate in the return of the people from exile.
The passage calls on the inhabitants of Jerusalem to put an end to mourning and radiate the splendour of God’s glory. Instead of putting on garments of sorrow and affliction, they are called upon to wear a robe of righteousness and then peace will flow, a peace born out of righteousness and the manifestation of God’s glory.
Clearly, therefore, it is not our mourning and chest-beating that attracts the Lord’s liberation or salvation but our repentance and conversion: instead of wearing the garments of sorrow and affliction, we need to put on the robe of righteousness. When we repent, the Lord forgives and when he forgives, we are made righteous and the Lord’s glory shines on us and in us and we encounter peace and joy: the peace and joy of righteousness and God’s glory.
In the 2nd Reading (Phil 1:4-11), Paul writes the Philippians, telling them how he finds praying for them a joyful and thankful moment for their collaboration in the Gospel ministry, being hopeful that God will perfect the good work he started in them. Then he prays that the Philippians abound in love more and more, as well as for knowledge and discernment. While love is to result in their becoming pure and blameless before Christ (cf. also 1 Thess 3:12-13), their knowledge and discernment will help them to approve only that which is excellent.
As our society increasingly experiences hate crimes, let us pray for more and more love. The future of humanity here on earth and in the hereafter (before Christ in his coming as judge) depends on how much love animates our lives. We must keep in mind that the criteria which Christ uses to decide whether we are ultimately blameless and pure before him or not, all have to do with how we treat the naked, the hungry, the sick and the imprisoned (cf. Mt 25:31-46). We are also living in an age with too many competing and confusing choices. So we also need to pray for more and more knowledge and discernment to be able to approve of only that which is excellent.
The Gospel Reading (Lk 3:1-6) is the account of the ministry of John the Baptist, a prelude to that of Jesus’ ministry. The first part of the passage (vv.1-3) presents the historical context of time and place of the ministry, as well as the thematic issues that characterized John’s ministry, while the second part (vv. 4-6) is a scriptural quotation of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isa 40:3-5, illustrating the mission of John the Baptist as part and parcel of Israel’s prophetic tradition.
With respect to its historical context, the passage indicates that John exercised his ministry in the 15th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius. Tiberius had reigned between 14-37 A.D. It also indicates other reigning subordinate kings such as Pontius Pilate who was the governor of the Roman provinces of Judea, Samaria and Idumea from 26-37 A.D., and Herod Antipas who was the ruler of Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C.- 29 A.D., and his brother Philip who ruled the regions of Ituraea and Trachonitis from 4 B.C.-34 A.D., and Lysanias who was the Roman Tetrarch of Abilene (West of Damascus) from ca. 25-30 A.D.
The religious leaders of the time are also mentioned, Annas and Caiaphas. Annas was High Priest from 6-15 A.D. He was then deposed by the Roman authorities and was succeeded first by his sons and eventually by his son-in-law Caiaphas who reigned as High Priest from 18-36 A.D. Thus, the ministry of John the Baptist is situated between the years 28 and 29 or 27 and 28 AD.
Dating by reigning powers was a common practice in the ancient Near East and is well attested in the Old Testament (see Isa 6:1; Jer 1:1-3; Ezek 1:1-3). The detailed reference to various rulers of the time shows Luke’s peculiar interest in details and his commitment to offer “an orderly account of the events” of Jesus’ life, as he claims at the beginning of his Gospel (see Lk 1:1). The location is also indicated as “all the region around the Jordan”, which is a desert region south of Judah, where the River Jordan meets the Dead Sea.
Luke indicates the theme of John’s preaching as a proclamation of “a Baptism of conversion for forgiveness of sins”, presupposing the existence of other types of baptism that were not for the forgiveness of sins. The word “baptism” (Gk, “báptisma”) simply means “a dipping” or “immersion” into water. In fact, the Jews had the practice of immersion into the “miqveh”, a ritual bath, for the purposes of ritual purity, akin to the Muslim practice of ablution before prayer.
According to the ancient Jewish historian, Josephus (Ant. 18:117), John’s baptism served as a public testimony for repentance. In some circles such as the Qumran Jewish community, baptism or immersion served also as a rite of initiation. In the Christian tradition, it combined all these characteristics of being a rite of initiation and a testimony of repentance, and also acquired the sense of a cleansing act. Some Old Testament texts attest to the understanding of washing as symbolizing God’s cleansing (see Ezek 36:25; Ps 51:2).
The cited passage of Isaiah in the Gospel, just like the first reading, employs a road construction metaphor to make clear the demands of genuine conversion and repentance. It requires not only a lowering of mountains but also a filling up of valleys, not only a straightening of crooked paths but also a smoothening of rough ways. The end of this conversion journey is the forgiveness of the Lord. As the passage concludes, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God”.
May our journey of preparation for Christmas, and our every day journey of conversion and repentance culminate in our salvation. Happy 2nd Sunday of Advent!
Rev. Fr. Stephen Udechukwu
Make way for the arrival of Christ
There is a popular maxim that says “to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail”. This goes a great deal to show how important preparation is in the life of man. It is a courtesy to prepare for visitors, especially important visitors. In fact one easily knows when someone is expecting a very important visitor. I remember working as a seminarian in one of our schools and then we were told that the Archbishop will be visiting. From the day we got that news, there was no longer rest in the whole school both from the side of the staff and the students. The students were busy learning new songs while the staff were busy looking for money and other things to entertain the Archbishop when he came. In fact God himself prepares. Moses was prepared by God in Exodus 3 and 4:1-23. In Genesis 2:1-24 God did not just create man and leave him on his own. He made preparations for the livelihood of man. And when God the Father sent his Son to the world for the redemption of man he made preparation for him hence Isaiah 7:14 made a prophecy of a virgin who will be with child and in Matt 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-7 the prophecy was fulfilled which means that God prepared a virgin to bring forth his Son. Also, before Jesus chose his disciples in Luke 6:12-19 he made preparation for it by going into prayers.
Today the second Sunday of advent the Church is calling us through the readings to make way for the coming of Christ; to prepare for him who is to come. And to help us prepare for this great coming of Christ the Church has chosen the words of Baruch a friend and secretary to Jeremiah which spoke of the new kingdom which the Messiah would set up when he comes. Hence for us to prepare well Baruch tells us in Baruch 5:1 to “take off the garment of our sorrow and affliction…because God who is coming will show our splendor everywhere under heaven. And the preaching of John the Baptist in our gospel reading should ring in our ears every day. The prophet tells us how we should prepare for the coming of the savior, hence he says “…make his path straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways shall be made smooth…”
Advent is a time of getting ready; a time of preparation. A time in which we clean all the floors and windows of our hearts; a time in which we clean every dust and dirt in our hearts that may prevent the Lord from being born in our hearts. And how do we get ready and prepare? We are to do this by turning away from our sins, from the distracting things of this world. We must ask ourselves what is that valley in our lives that has to be filled? What is that rough way that has to be made smooth? What is that crooked way that has to be made straight?. For us to adequately prepare for the coming of Christ we must repent from our sins and prepare our heart adequately for Christ to dwell when he comes because psalm 28:13 made it clear that “whoever conceals his sin does not prosper but who ever confesses and renounce his sins finds mercy” and St. Paul tells us in 1Cor.6:9-10 that sinners will never inherit the kingdom of God.
One who waits for an important visitor does things that will make that visitor happy when he eventually arrives. When a president wants to visit a state the governor of such a state tries to put things in order so that the president when he comes would be happy with him. But here we are expecting someone who is almighty. We must during this period of advent; a period of preparation put in place things that will make him happy when he comes at Christmas. So many of us no longer see any meaning in celebrating Christmas because we do not prepare for it. We have celebrated many Charismas but it makes no meaning to us because we failed to prepare for the most important visitor and so the visitor visited others but did not visit us. The meaningfulness of Christmas lies in its preparation therefore we must make way for the arrival of Christ the great king. May Christ who is to come bless us and give us the grace of adequate preparation for his coming. Amen. HAPPY SUNDAY AND GOD BLESS YOU
Fr. Paul Oredipe
Christ is the Joy we await
God will bring to completion the work He has begun in us. Our love for one another will help us to be blameless when Christ will come again. Our lives on earth are a preparation for the day when the Lord comes and so we should be full of joyful and expectancy.
As we continue our preparation for the coming of the infant Jesus at Christmas, we are vividly presented with the person and voice of John the Baptist in the Gospel. The main theme of all three cycles of the Masses of the 2nd Sunday of Advent is John the Baptist’s summons to repentance and conversion. John the Baptist could rightly be called ‘the preacher of Advent’. Every year the liturgy proposes his message: just as he prepared the people of Israel for the coming of the Messiah, so can he show us today how to get ready for Christmas.
The coming of the Messiah was preceded by prophets who announced his arrival, like heralds who announce the arrival of a great king. John is called ‘the prophet of the Most High’, because his mission is ‘to go before the Lord to prepare his ways, teaching the knowledge of salvation to his people’.
The voice of John the Baptist echoes and speaks to us across the centuries and urges us to prepare a place for the Lord in our hearts and in our lives. John talks about filling in deep valleys of prejudice, of nurtured resentment and hurt, levelling down mountains of pride and straightening out the crooked paths of injustice. John was to carry out his task to the full, even to the extent of giving up his life in the fulfilment of his vocation. From his mother’s womb, he recognised Jesus and eventually laid down his life as a witness to the truth.
In the Gospel passage, St Luke gave us a precise prologue or account in which he names representative figures of the whole array of political and religious authority in the Roman and Judean world of those days: and (coincidentally or providentially) they include those who will encompass the deaths of John the Baptist and that of Jesus whose herald he was and whom he made known when at last he came (cf. Preface).
Having seen the person and mission of John the Baptist, what then was his message ? The gospel of today puts it in the following images: “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low, winding ways will be straightened and rough roads made smooth. And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.”
The prophet Baruch had the same image and perspective: “God has ordered the flattening of each high mountain, the filling of the valleys to make the ground level”.
What then do these words say to us today? What is their meaning and message? What do they lead to? What is the way of the Lord that John speaks about?
It is important to bear in mind that then, whenever a king was to travel, messengers are sent ahead to announce to the local people who then prepared for his visit in several ways: by storing up provisions for his entourage, by providing a suitable dwelling and by repairing the local roads so the royal carriage or the chariot might not bounce over the potholes and get stuck in the ruts. So like the old-time town crier, John uses that image to point to the coming of the Lord who is actually a king, the King of King.
It is obvious that John was not speaking about the mountains and hills, the valleys, the crooked and rough ways that abounded5 in Palestine in his time, and still abound around us today. Rather, he was talking about the mountains and hills and those obstacles in the hearts and lives of men and women, you and me.
‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’ Perhaps the ‘way’ should be capitalised in memory of him who called himself the Way, Truth and Life (Jn 14:6). In the Acts of the Apostles, the first disciples were called the followers of ‘the Way’ (Acts 9:2). We too are followers of the same way. We are even on the way, on transit home, to our heavenly abode.
There is no one who does not have a valley or mountain or rough roads to be made straight or good. It may be the mountain of pride or stubbornness. Whatever is your mountain or valley, you are called on today to be at work in getting it straightened. We usually see a sign on the road – ‘Slow down, men at men’. That is our Advent task and obligation. We need to be at work in leveling these mountains and filling the valleys in our private and collective lives.
We are the John the Baptist of our days and time. It is our duty to prepare people for the Lord. And we cannot actually prepare anyone if we ourselves are not really prepared. No one gives what he does not have. What worthy birthday gift shall we present to the Lord on this history’s greatest jubilee celebration?
As we move into the next millennium, you have been called and chosen to join in the indispensable mission of preparation – both of yourselves and others to whom you will minister. One thing is clear and certain – we can never avoid this preparation. In one way or another, we are always preparing. One common saying makes this crystal-clear to us. ‘If you fail to prepare, then you are preparing to fail’. The question then is: what are we preparing for? How best are we preparing ourselves and our people for the Lord?
As the Church teaches us in Pastores Dabo Vobis: “A loving knowledge of the word of God and a prayerful familiarity with it are specifically important for the prophetic ministry of the priest. They are a fundamental condition for such a ministry to be carried out suitably, especially if we bear in mind the “new evangelization” which the Church today is called to undertake; “new in its ardour, new in its method and new in its mode of expression”.
Are we guiding our people in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, after His own heart?
The Spirit, which gives the power to bear witness to Christ, dead and resurrected, sets the apostle on his missionary journey. It is the same Spirit which prepares all humanity for this meeting with Christ, in order to establish the Church, assembled by his word and nourished by the sacraments.
May this be your reward at the end of time.
May we all be worthy and ready for the Lord whenever He comes and calls us.
May the Lord Himself make us acceptable in the sight of our Father through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fr. Galadima Bitrus