2nd Sunday of Advent (Year C) - "Great things the Lord has done for us"
God will show all the earth your splendor
The Lord has done great things for us
...you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ
Reading the Gospel
Everyone will see the salvation of God
"Great things the Lord has done for us"
Today, we continue our journey “in the expectation of His coming”. The readings and liturgical prayers of this second Sunday of Advent provide some insights into Christian hope and encourage us to renew our commitment in this season of Advent. In this context, we are presented with someone whose way of life and message fervently prepared for the coming of the Lord. This is John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, “prophet of the Most High” (Lk 1:76) whom the evangelist John called “a man sent from God” (cf. Jn 1:6). He is the missionary, the one sent by God to testify to the Light that is Christ Jesus, Word made man (cf. Jn 1:7-8). He is someone that today’s missionary disciples of Christ can emulate as they bear witness to Christ and prepare the way of the Lord.
In the short passage of the today’s Gospel, the characteristics of the “missionary” John the Baptist can be grasped through three key expressions: “the word of God came to John,” “John went throughout the whole region,” and “proclaiming a baptism of repentance” (Lk 3:2b-3).
1. “The word of God came to John.” The beginning of John the Baptist’s activities is presented by Luke in a very solemn way. God, himself, gives John a mandate to act: “The word of God came [literally happened] to John.” This is the expression found in the account of the vocation of prophets like Jeremiah (cf. Jer 1:2, and even verbatim in the Greek text of the LXX of Jer 1:1) and Ezekiel (cf. Ez 1:3). It is almost the formula of the prophetic investiture: The word of God [/of Lord] was [/happened/came to] on the prophet and sent him to begin to announce to the peoples what he had heard from God. Every prophet of God is therefore His special one sent to the people to always speak in the name of God and of the things, God asks him to say! He is the missionary of God. So it was with John the Baptist. He is solemnly presented as the prophet elected in the fulfillment of history. Later, he will be praised by Jesus himself as “among those born of women, no one is greater than John,” “more than a prophet,” “messenger” of God (cf. Lk 7:27-28; Mt 11:9-11). The particular mention of the “desert” as a place of vocation and the beginning of the Baptist’s activity is not just to mark the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic announcement (cf. Lk 3:4; Is 40:3) or to recall the experience of exodus. It makes us imagine a general spiritual picture of the time and to perceive a connection between the Baptist’s entry on the scene and the eschatological renewal of the people. God’s prophet-missionary almost always acts in the desert, even when he does so in a overcrowded city such as Shanghai, New Delhi, Lagos, or Sao Paulo! He is not particularly intimidated or deterred by this fact, because he knows that he is there not of his own will but for a mission entrusted to him by the Word of God!
2. “John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan.” Although the original Greek verb means “came”, its English translation with “went throughout” gives emphasis to the characteristic of the Baptist’s activities with the specific description of the extent of his ministry: “whole region of the Jordan,” underlining precisely the word “whole.” We know that the Baptist in fact carries out his activity around the Jordan River, where he could administer baptism by immersion in water. There are no further linguistic clues or clearer words. Therefore, it seems to us that here Saint Luke wanted to describe the action of the Baptist as that of an itinerant, almost on the model of Jesus (cf. Mk 1:39; Mt 4:23) and His disciples, who, sent by God to mission, will go throughout all towns and places to prepare the visit of their Master (cf. Lk 10:1).
Luke’s vision of the Baptist’s itinerancy is highly suggestive and enlightening from a missionary perspective. Every prophet-missionary of God is called to be dynamic: never to remain static. He is called to “go throughout”, to always go where the Word of God sends him. Just as John the Baptist has accomplished his “going out” and his continuous going throughout the whole region to prepare “the way of the Lord” for the local people, every Christian is called to go out and become the missionary forerunner of Christ everywhere (even outside his native country!), and especially in this waiting time for the Lord’s coming. In this way, let us help each other, in all places where we are, to better prepare ourselves to welcome Christ when He comes.
3. “[John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,] proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The presentation of John the Baptist’s actions on the Christian model reaches its climax here. Indeed, his “proclaiming” a baptism of repentance (Lk 3:3) is echoed in the description of the activities of Jesus and His apostles. The proof is that, afterwards, Saint Luke did not hesitate to summarize all the actions of John the Baptist with a meaningful phrase: “Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people” (Lk 3:18). “Preaching” and “proclaiming good news (= evangelizing)” are the actions of Christ and of His disciples sent by Him (cf. Lk 4:18-19; Mk 1:14-15; Mt 4:23). Even the content of the proclaiming and his “preaching”, which urges repentance (metanoia) for the forgiveness of sins, resembles that proclaimed by Christ (cf. Lk 5:32; Mk 1:15) and subsequently by the apostles (cf. Acts 2:38). The only difference is that the Jesus insisted on the proper realization of the Kingdom of God, and on the gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Baptist, in Luke, reveals himself to be the only prophet of God who is at the same time already a “Christian” missionary. From his “cry” every Christian missionary of today will now be able to see him as a useful model for his own life and mission.
John the Baptist’s message, while emphasizing the need for a serious preparation for the Lord, who will surely come to judge the world, is essentially a message of hope. This message, moreover, is underlined in all the prophets of the Old Testament, in particular, in the passage from Baruch, chosen for the first reading. Baruch invites Jerusalem to take off the robe of mourning and misery to welcome the God who “is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, / with his mercy and justice for company.” Saint Luke the evangelist underlines this with the quotation on the special fulfillment of the ancient oracles of the prophet Isaiah with the apex in the final statement that we heard in this Sunday’s Gospel: “all flesh [sarx] shall see the salvation of God” (Lk 3:6; cf. Is 40:5). This affirmation emphasizes the universalism of divine grace, a theme so dear to St. Luke. Furthermore, it is linked to the person of Jesus who was revealed as the “salvation of God” (cf. Lk 2:30; and Acts 28:28).
Referring to the coming of Jesus, salvation of God, a serious commitment of interior and exterior preparation is certainly required, as recalled by the evocative images of the preparation of the “way” corresponding to concrete moral and social actions. This is made explicit by the Baptist himself in the next passage of Luke’s Gospel that we will meditate on next Sunday. For the moment, what requires our attention is the peculiar form of the sentences without the indication of the protagonist: “Every valley shall be filled, / and every mountain and hill shall be made low.” Who will do these things? Obviously, from the preceding imperative “make straight his paths” people can legitimately be seen as those who perform these actions. However, the use of verbs in the passive form implies God as the implicit agent. Hence under divine action, rather than human work, “The winding roads shall be made straight, / and the rough ways made smooth,” as confirmed by the prophet Baruch in the first reading: “For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, / and that the age-old depths and gorges / be filled to level ground.” The miracle of the straightened and leveled ways, of the “highways” in the desert, belongs above all to the grace of God, who in any case asks for the collaboration of man with an open heart to welcome Him.
And this is the message, indeed the good news, the Gospel, to be announced by the Baptist together with all the prophets sent by Lord. This will also be the message that every Christian, missionary prophet of Christ, will make to resound even now, especially in today’s world, full of winding and rough ways, ravines, mountains, hills. As Pope Francis reminds us, this is not the time to condemn, but to proclaim always and to everybody “a year of grace” (Lk 4:19) from the “great and merciful” God. This is despite, and perhaps precisely because, this “crooked and perverse generation” (Phil 2:15) continues to live as if God did not exist. After all, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son […] God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (Jn 3:16-17). And all of us, Christians, are sent by Christ as the Father had sent Him. Let us, therefore, proclaim again and again, as the Forerunner of Christ, without weariness, the message of hope from God of love and mercy who is coming. Let us announce it first to ourselves and then to others, so that we can all prepare ourselves in the best way to welcome the Lord, who comes with His grace.