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DECEMBER 6, 2009: SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Readings: 

Baruch 5:1-9
Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
Luke 3:1-6

Except for such unique writings as Paul’s letters, the vast majority of our Sacred Scriptures were composed years, even centuries after the events they narrate took place. The interval between the events and the biblical text provided their authors with something very valuable: the ability to interpret those happenings through the lens of later events, a lens which helped the writers look at them from a different perspective than the people who actually experienced them. We especially hear this historical development in today’s first and third readings.

The author of Baruch looks back through the centuries at the Israelites’ return from the Babylonian Exile and describes the event in majestic terms. “Jerusalem take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever; wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the miter that displays the glory of the eternal name.” Of course, when the first Israelites actually returned from exile Jerusalem was just a heap of ruins. Rather than spend the rest of their lives rebuilding, most Jews opted to stay in Babylon. Baruch obviously saw something in their return that few of the original returnees noticed.

In a parallel way, Luke, writing more than 50 years after the public appearance of John the Baptizer, wants his readers to reflect on the significance of his ministry. John probably was just one preacher of many who had their roots in the Dead Sea’s Qumran community. But he not only had a great impact on his contemporaries, he also played an important role in Jesus’ decision to go public.

During wedding practices, I often remind the first bridesmaid, “If you don’t start up the aisle tomorrow, we’re not going to have a wedding.” In the same way, our evangelists tell us, “If John hadn’t made his move, Jesus wouldn’t have made his.” That’s why Luke, employing the dating method of his day, tells us exactly when John’s ministry began: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate, etc.” Though John originally used Deutero-Isaiah’s quote about a voice crying in the wilderness in the context of where his community of Essenes settled - in the Judean wilderness - Luke uses it to anticipate the coming of Jesus. What John declared in one context is reinterpreted by our sacred author in a Christian context. Only years after John’s original proclamation did Jesus’ followers find this deeper significance in his words.

Baruch and Luke are less concerned with providing a history lesson for their readers than they are with helping them understand the history in which they’re actually living. If past events had a deeper meaning, the events of our everyday lives also have a deeper meaning - as long as we know how to interpret them.

That’s precisely Paul’s message in today’s Philippians passage. “This is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discover what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. . . .“ In other words, “Never forget that what you do now will one day have an effect down the road when Jesus returns.”

Paul seems to be using the word “knowledge” in its Semitic sense of “experience.” He wants his community to have and reflect more and more on experiences of the risen Jesus in their lives.

If we don’t have, then reflect on those same experiences in our everyday lives, there’s not much sense in reading about other peoples’ experiences and their reflection on them, even if they’re in our Scriptures.