SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
The Advent season is a privileged moment to overcome our nostalgia and conquer pessimism that weighs down existence. In this second Sunday the liturgy is a joyful announcement of hope and a rejoicing son to the newness that God can generate in the midst of the obscurities of human history. Baruch announces the transformation of Jerusalem and the return of the exiles to the land of Israel forming a solemn procession toward liberty (first reading); Paul prays full of joy trusting that God will bring to a happy end the work that he has begun in the Christians of Philippi (second reading); Luke announces with joy that “all will see the salvation of God” (gospel).
The first reading (Bar 5,1-9) is taken from a small book of the Old Testament written in Greek around the 2nd century before Christ and attributed to Baruch, the prophet Jeremiah’s secretary (Jer 32.36.45). In its contents, the book has four sections. It begins with an historical prologue (Bar 1,1-14) that places the writing in a fictitious form at the time of the exile; then follows a long penitential prayer (Bar 1,15-3,8); a eulogy to wisdom (Bar 3,9-4,4); and an oracle of restoration in the form of a prophetic homily. This last part begins with a lament of Jerusalem that has remained without sons, but then it is announced that its supplications will obtain the favor of the Most High, who will console them returning to them joy and splendor (Bar 4,5-5,9). The text that is proclaimed today in the liturgy is taken from the last part of the book.
The prophet turns to Jerusalem, the holy city, personified as an adulterous matron that is dressed in a miserable garment and one of mourning because she has lost her sons, to invite her to put on a garment of rejoicing and of joy that God grants to her (bar 5,1). To give to someone clothing is an expression of protection and benevolent love. We can think of Yahweh that makes leather tunics to dress Adam and Eve after sinning (Gen 3,21) or of Jacob that orders to be made a long-sleeved tunic for Joseph, his much beloved son (Gen 37,3-4). Baruch’s words are a joyful message of trust and of hope. Life and happiness are still possible after bitterness and darkness. Jerusalem can go on living and hoping thus because not everything is lost. God always has the last word of consolation and of hope for men and women. The images used by the prophet remind of those used by Isaiah that describe Jerusalem dress for God with a vestment of salvation and covered with a mantle of liberation as a bride (Is 61,10): “Wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the miter that displays the glory of the eternal name. For God will show all the earth your splendor” (Bar 5,2-3).
In a second moment the prophet invites Jerusalem to place itself in an elevated place and contemplate a grand procession that slowly returns from the exile and journeys toward liberty. It is her sons that return from exile, “Gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God” (Bar 5,5). That undetermined crowd represents not only the historical Israel but also all humanity that has heard the voice of God and begun to journey toward a future of light and of happiness. But this humanity does not journey alone. God accompanies them with his mercy and benevolent protection. The journey by which they move is prepared by the Lord, that clears a path and makes the shade of the trees cover the people with their shade: “For God has commanded that every mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground…. For God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company” (Bar 5,7-8).
The second reading (Phil 1,4-6.8.11) makes up the introduction to the letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians. The Apostle is convinced that God will bring to a happy end the work that he has begun in that community (v. 6). For this reason, Paul gives thanks to God with immense joy, remembering the services that the Philippians have offered for the promotion of the gospel (v. 5). But at the same time he asks for them that their love may more and more abound and become an instrument of discernment: “My prayer is that your love may more and more abound, both in understanding and wealth of experience, so that with a clear conscience and blameless conduct you may learn to value the things that really matter” (Phil 1,9-10). Love is a precious instrument that permits one to know the meaning of history and of life. There is only one way to prepare oneself for the arrival of the “day of Christ”; charity. Only with a new knowledge of God fed by love is the Christian life possible. And only through a way of thinking and acting animated by love men and women can present themselves before the Lord on “the day of Christ”, “with clear conscience and blameless conduct” (Phil 1,10), “rich in the harvest of justice which Jesus Christ has ripened to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1,11).
The gospel (Lk 3,1-6) takes us to the beginning of mission of John the Baptist that is placed by Luke in a concrete historical moment. It situates us in the fifteenth year of the rule of Tiberius Caesar, it gives us the names of the Roman procurators and governors and mentions the high-priesthood of the high priests, Annas and Caiaphas in Israel. In this well defined historical moment, in the midst of its shadows and miseries, something not hoped for happens: “the word of God was spoken to John son of Zechariah in the desert” (Lk 3,2). The Greek text in reality does not use the word “come”, but “to happen.” This treats of an authentic happening of the word of God that at first is covered in power for the last of the prophets and then is incarnated in Jesus Christ the Son of God. The Word is manifest in the “desert,” a place of sterility and of death, of passage and of preparation, and will not return to God without having transformed it, thus as Isaiah says, the word of God is like the rain and the snow that comes down from heaven, and only returns there after having drenched the earth, to make it fertile and make it grown, so that it gives seed to the one who plants and break to the one that eats (Is 55,9-10).
This “happening” of the Word in the midst of the un-consoling desert and many times incomprehensible in history is announced and interpreted in the first place by John the Baptist. To decipher and perceive the presence of God it is necessary to listen to his profit, to be able to discover much later the Son of God in the humble carpenter Jesus of Nazareth the voice of John the Baptist is necessary. John helps us to respond to the action of God and, for this reason, does not doubt exhorting with the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Make ready the way of the Lord, clear him a straight path. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be leveled. The windings shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth” (vv. 4-5). John announces that he is at the point of there being traced a long straight path over the abysses of the absurd and the mountains of pride and of idolatry. This path leads to God’s salvation that is about to be offered in Jesus of Nazareth.
The preaching of the Baptist anticipates that of Christ. For the prophet of the desert it is indispensable that men and women receive “baptism for the forgiveness of sins” (V. 3). John himself offers this opportunity through the purifying and penitential gesture of immersion in water. To enter the water is to die, and to come out of it is to return to life. Only accepting John’s baptism does one begin to prepare the way of the Lord. It is necessary to change the rhythm of life and walk in a new way. Men and women have to open eyes and heart, they have to change their way of thinking and of action so that the Savior send by God can become finally visible. The citation of Isaiah that Luke places in the mouth of the Baptist terminates with these words: “and all shall see the salvation of God” (Lk 3,6). The eyes of “all,” without exceptions or exclusions, will be opened and will be able to contemplate the powerful hand of God that acts and saves. Life will become transformed, constant pessimism in life and mistrust in relation with the heart of man and woman will disappear.
Advent invites us to prepare the ways of the faithful God that will bring his work to a happy completion (second reading), bring back the exiles (first reading) and making fertile the desert of life with the saving presence of Jesus Christ (gospel). During four weeks that proceed Christmas, the biblical texts invite us to revive hope and the capacity to dream of a new world trusting in the power of God. And this is only possible when “we will straighten” the paths of our existence, turning to the Lord and converting to his Word.