By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Second Sunday of Advent, Year C
First Reading: Baruch 5:1-9; Response: Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Second Reading: Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
The first reading is from the Book of Baruch, a somewhat obscure Old Testament document. Who was Baruch? The Baruch of history was secretary to the prophet Jeremiah. He was a member of a prominent Judean family. His brother was an important official in the palace of King Zedekiah, who reigned in Jerusalem from 597 B.C. until the exile in 587 B.C. There are 23 references to Baruch in the assembled works of the prophet Jeremiah. That being said, the Book of Baruch was not composed by the Baruch of history. Like some documents of both Old and New Testament, this book was attributed to an important figure of Old Testament history — perhaps to give it greater authority — but was composed long after the time of the man to whom it was attributed. The author is unknown. The literary setting is in the time of Jeremiah, 626-582, but the time of composition is centuries later, sometime between 300-100 B.C. It is written in Greek poetry.
Due to the wide range of possibilities for the time of composition, the true historical situation in Jerusalem is uncertain. The reading for this Sunday is the end of a long poem addressed to Israel as a nation and to Jerusalem. The addressees are urged to put away the clothing of mourning and misery and dress in God-given splendor and glory. Therefore, the book could be dated to a time when the Jews were ruled neither by Egypt in the south nor by Syria in the north. A possibility: the defeat of Syrian forces by the Jews under the Maccabees in the 160s B.C. How does this reading fit into our Advent? Since we are anticipating the celebration of the birth of our Savior, the instruction to put away mourning and misery can be a call to spiritual renewal for that celebration. Thus, the first reading would correspond to John the Baptizer’s call to repentance in today’s gospel.
The Responsorial Psalm 126 also expresses a theme of repentance along with restoration. The setting is the end of the exile circa 540-538 B.C. and return from Babylon to Jerusalem. The joy of the former exiles picks up from the first reading, putting aside the clothes of mourning and putting on splendid robes. The Psalmist sings, “We were like people in a dream. Our mouth was filled with laughter, our tongue with rejoicing.” They recognize that this is the Lord’s work, “The Lord has done great things for us.” An old gospel song, “Bringing in the Sheaves,” by Knowles Shaw (1874), finds its origin in this Psalm, “We Will Come Rejoicing Bringing in the Sheaves.” For the young unfamiliar with “sheaves,” a sheaf was a collection of stalks of grain gathered by harvesters into bundles and set upright in fields to await being picked up by a wagon to feed them into a threshing machine to separate the grain from the stalks/straw. That was B.C. — Before Combines.
The second reading is taken from the introduction of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Philippi was a city in northern Greece. Paul founded a Christian community there on his second missionary journey about 50 A.D. The dates of the various assembled parts of the letter range from 54-58 A.D.
It was sent to Philippi from Ephesus (southwest Turkey today). Paul thanks the recipients for supporting him (money) while he was in prison in Ephesus. He calls this “your partnership for the gospel,” a fine name also for offerings collected at our Sunday Masses. The choice of this reading for today’s liturgy is found in the expression of his confidence that they will continue supporting his work “until the day of the Lord Jesus,” and that they “may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Paul meant the expected return of Jesus for final judgment at the end of time. For us, these words can refer to our spiritual preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ first visit to the earth in the Incarnation. Thus, the liturgy moves from the original intention to an interpretation current for us.
In the preface to his gospel, Luke expresses dissatisfaction with previous efforts “to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us.” He intends to improve the previous attempts and “write an orderly account for you, that you may know the truth, etc.” In today’s gospel reading, he gives us an example of an improved order by setting the mission of John the Baptizer into the history of the Roman Empire of the early first century A.D., in Roman-occupied Middle East. First, he mentions Pontius Pilate — governor of Judea 26-36 A.D. Herod Antipas, ruler (tetrarch) of Galilee (and other territories) is next — 4 B.C.-39 A.D. Herod Philip was ruler (tetrarch) of land north of the Sea of Galilee. Lysanias is mentioned as tetrarch of Abilene, which was somewhere in Syria. The final historical setting for John’s mission, the high priesthood “of Annas and Caiaphas.” Annas was high priest from 6-15. His son-in-law Caiaphas, 18-37 A.D.
Luke introduces the Baptizer by a standard Old Testament formula of describing the mission of a legitimate prophet, “The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.” John was in a hurry. He traversed the whole region of the Jordan River from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea in the south. His job description: “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Our gospel authors took considerable pains to base New Testament activities on the Old Testament. They did this by quotes as if to demonstrate that the New Testament activity was carefully planned by God long before it happened. Luke quotes from Isaiah 40:3-5, a passage that celebrated the end of the exile of the Jews in Babylon in 540 B.C.