Monday, December 1, 2014

Second Sunday of Advent - December 7, 2014

First Reading Commentary
To sum up what the prophet Isaiah is sharing with his listeners here is to not be dejected because the Babylonian captivity has ended; and what will follow is the coming of the long awaited Messiah. 

An interesting note on translation: for the word “service” found in the second sentence of this Reading, the Latin Vulgate uses the word “malitia” which means “wickedness” referring to the evil Jerusalem has witnessed and experienced.  Other ancient copies translate as “warfare”.  What is likely the true meaning here is “servitude” as it applies to military service.  The New Vulgate uses the word “militia” which does indeed mean “military service”. 

In this Reading also are those familiar words of prophecy that we associate with John the Baptist.  The images like wasteland, highway, valley, mountain, hill, rugged land, plain, rough country and a broad valley seemingly desires to turn the readers of this passage towards thoughts of a new Exodus; and like the first Exodus from Egypt, this prophesied new Exodus is also accompanied by a manifestation of the glory of God. 

As this Reading closes, a literal crying out to the cities of Judah is called for because God has returned with the Jewish exiles.  Prophetically, this points to the Incarnation of Christ, and His mission as Chief Shepherd of the flock.  

Second Reading Commentary
This Reading exhorts us to be convinced of the truths revealed.  Someday each of us will carry our final cross to the hill of Calvary; and someday our Lord Jesus Christ will return in glory.  Regardless of how far away or close at hand that “someday” is, it is a mere speck of dust compared to eternity.  Time has no relevance in eternity which is why “that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.”  To the devout Christian, however, this could bring with it a mixed bag of emotions.  On the one hand, as we strive to be all that God made us to be, that part of us is ready to shout from the highest mountaintops: “Veni, Domine Iesu!— Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).  On the other hand, quite in touch with our own human weaknesses, there is evil lurking which seeks our submission to temptation, and ultimately, the ruination of our souls; and since insecurity is a familiar human trait, that part of us can be quite content with our Lord’s “delay” until we can better prepare ourselves. 

It’s very difficult to be absolutely certain about our own salvation.  Even the spiritual greats like Saint Pio of Pietrelcina and Saint John Paul II were insecure about it.  Fortunately, God’s infinite mercy and His love for humanity is patient with us, not willing that any of us should perish, but that all of us would return to Him by a sincere repentance.  All things in the world shall pass in a short time; therefore, it is not prudent to devote a lifelong credence to any of those things.  Holiness is measured in our love for eternal things.  In this life, that translates into zeal for souls.  We eagerly “await new heavens and a new earth.”  May our Lord also find in that eagerness, unblemished souls.  

Gospel Commentary  
The word “Gospel” is a Saxon word which translates as “God’s spell” or “good spell,” that is, “God’s word” or “good speech.”  In modern terminology this all translates to mean the Good News of the coming of Jesus Christ and the glad tidings of salvation brought by Him. 

In the beginning of this Gospel, Saint Mark confirms the authority of the prophets, in this case, Isaiah.  Most likely he does this to convince his readers to willingly accept the story that is to follow since they too accepted the authority of the prophets. 

Saint John the Baptist is portrayed as a messenger possessing extraordinary sanctity; but what is meant by “he will prepare your way” is that John the Baptist has been chosen to prepare the minds and hearts of the people of God to receive their Messiah; and he prepares God’s people by his baptism, a call to repentance and by his powerful preaching. 

There have been other ideas bounced around over the centuries that portrayed John the Baptist as an angel because of what has been written by the prophet Malachi: “Behold, I send my angel, and he shall prepare the way before My Face” (Malachi 3:1). 

“A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.’”  The prophet Isaiah spoke these words on behalf of the deliverance of the Jews from Babylonian captivity; but this was a figure of the eternal freedom of humanity that would come through Jesus Christ.  Most practitioners of the Law and the Prophets of that day expected that Elijah would return to prepare the way of the Messiah but it was John the Baptist who was raised up by God in the spirit and power of Elijah, to proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ. 

John’s baptism could not wash away sins.  He clearly professes this by saying that he baptizes “with water”; but the Messiah will baptize “with the Holy Spirit.”  John also needed to clear up any misconceptions about himself because many thought he was the Messiah.  Without a baptism of the Holy Spirit, the remission of sins is not possible.  John’s baptism is for repentance; that is, the baptized formally profess a desire to change their sinful ways.  This would also require a rebuilding, so to speak, of the interior life.  John, perhaps tactically, proclaimed the awaited Messiah as One Who was mightier than him.  He doesn’t outright say that the Messiah is the Son of God, although by prophesying a baptism by the Holy Spirit, he did at least intimate it.  Hinting at it may have been by design because the people’s hearts possibly were not fully prepared to have that bombshell dropped on them. 

The Messiah’s form of baptism compared to that of John’s, who was not among the chosen Twelve and thus not an ordained priest of Christ, confirms that only God can bestow upon us the grace of the Holy Spirit.