The Second Sunday of Advent – 5th December 2021
Lectionary Readings: Bar 5:1-9; Ps126:1-6; Phil 1:3-6, 8-11; Lk 3:1-6
Theme: A Voice in the Wilderness
With the introduction of John the Baptizer, today’s Gospel begins the story of Jesus’ life work of re-igniting Israel’s passion for the reign of God. In the manner of the great prophets, John comes “proclaiming a baptism of repentance” (Lk 3:3). The Greek word translated as “repentance” is metanoia, meaning a complete change of outlook, of worldview, of mind and heart. “Repentance” suggests sorrow for wrong-doing and resolution to improve, and is usually associated with self-denial. But metanoia is something much deeper and it points to a future rich in happiness and fulfillment, something to rejoice about. The first reading prepares us for this.
In it, the prophet Baruch strongly encourages his people to put their sinful and painful past behind them, to see things differently, and to rejoice in the bright future opening up for them because God is rescuing them. Rejoicing in the prospect of a new future remained a constant theme in Judaism as attested in the Talmud by R. Aquiba in a story about a returning exile, “The Holy One, blessed be He, is going to make his descendants rejoice” (Yoma 3:11). Isaiah 51:3b carries the same message, “Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” John the Baptizer is announcing this same good news, about a new future, and so we are invited to celebrate it.
In verses 4b-6 of today’s gospel, Luke quotes Isaiah 40:1-5 from the Greek Septuagint version, not the original Hebrew, but changes the final verse by using only the middle part of it. In most English versions this appears as “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”. The Hebrew version of Isaiah 40:5 makes no reference to “salvation”. It is about the “glory” (kabod) of God and the middle line reads “all people shall see it [i.e. “glory”] together”. The Septuagint retains “glory” (doxa) in the first line but substitutes “salvation” (soterion) for “it” in the middle line, thus equating the glory of God with salvation. God’s glory lies not in manifestations of status and earthly power, but in his compassionate love for, and action on behalf of, all creatures, especially those most in need. Luke uses this line to foreshadow the healing and saving ministry of Jesus to the downtrodden and marginalized people of his day.
“Flesh” is the translation of the Greek sarx which is, in turn, the Greek translation in the Septuagint of the Hebrew basar. In addition to “flesh,” basar can be translated as “every creature” as in Leviticus 17:14. In Genesis 6:19 it is clearly equivalent to all living things, “And of every living thing, of all flesh…” In the light of our present scientific understanding of the deep interconnectedness of all members of any ecosystem (rocks, soils, plants, and animals including humans), it becomes a proclamation that God’s salvation is intended to encompass the whole of creation, not just humankind – good news indeed!
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Do you see John the Baptizer’s message as a cause for soul-searching and sorrow, or for celebration? 2. Discuss with someone your understanding of “the glory of God”. Bibliography: Harris, R.L. ed. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago IL: 1980); Neusner, J. The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (Peabody MA: 2011).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Kevin L McDonnell cfc, Australia, Bat Kol alumnus 2003, 2004, 2005