Monday, November 2, 2009

Second Sunday of Advent Year C

Second Sunday of Advent C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Baruch 5:1-9


Malachi 3:1-4

"The Song of Zechariah" (Luke1:68-79); Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

This poet included in the collection given the title "Baruch" announces to Jerusalem that now is the time to to take off the drab clothing of "sorrow and affliction" and put on "the beauty of the glory from God." Get up, he says with encouragement, and look east where you will see "your children" returning from diaspora. They were marched out of Jerusalem as captives of their enemies, but the Lord will assure that their journey home will be on level ground and in safety,


The unknown writer given the name "Malachi" imagines the Lord sending a "messenger of the covenant...." The appearance will initiate a purification of "the descendants of Levi" and reform and renew the hearts of those who worship God" as in the days of old and as in former years."

Luke has just told us (1:64) that after the birth of their son, John, to Elizabeth, Zechariah has miraculously regained the capacity to hear and to speak. Now the words flow in a poem/song. It begins with a blessing of God that is verbatim from David's blessing when his son, Solomon, was enthroned (I Kings 1:48) insuring their lineage. It then dwells on "the oath God swore to our father Abraham" that would establish a people free to "worship God without fear... all the days of our life." "You my child," the joyous father sings, are designated "the prophet of the Most High/for your role will be to instruct and guide and lead in confession of sins as preparation for "the tender compassion of our God. God's dawn arrives after deep darkness "and the shadow of death."

In his standard opening for his letters, Paul gives thanks to God for the recipients of his letter and the work they share. He longs for their love, compassion and insight to grow. It is clear in his mind that there will be a time when this work will come to its completion: "the day of Jesus Christ;" the season of harvest.

A priority for Luke is to place the story he tells firmly in the contemporary events that were shaping a crucial time in world (Western) history-- the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus, who established the empire and inaugurated a time of peace and prosperity and the catastrophic destruction of the Temple. So, he begins his version of the crucial role of John the Baptizer by naming the secular and religious authorities when John began his public mission. But the focus of his narrative swiftly shifts to the margins of these events, people and places where history seemed to be centered. "The word of God came to John son of Zechariah [and Elizabeth] in the wilderness." John spends his time in the hinterlands around the Jordan river "proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins....", which, Luke links directly to the same words of that other great prophet, Isaiah.

Several themes important to Jean-Louis Chretien emerge in his meditation in The Call and the Response on the appearance of John the Baptizer. To John is given the role of announcer. He cites a sermon written by St. Augustine for the feast of the birth of John in the church's calendar, "...after so many voices preceding it, the same Word descended in its own chariot, in its very own voice, in its flesh. Collect therefore into one voice as it were all the voices that preceded the Word and attribute them to the person of John...." (p. 64) John does not say anything new, quite the contrary. He collects, gathers, summarizes all that God's prophets have had the audacity to say before him. What makes it "new" is his personal choice to say those words where, when and to whom he said them. "...[H]e does not use words that are properly his and originate with him. He says his alteration by repeating the words of another." "By becoming this voice, he transforms his being into a pure relation to what incommensurably precedes him and comes after him. He thus loses and sacrifices his being, but rediscovers it transfigured...." (p.66) In his saying in his won words the words from past prophets, John discovers himself and his purpose. This is the way words work, Chretien insists repeatedly. The words we chose to speak play a fundamental function in shaping who we are, who we become over time. Spirit is quite concrete for Chretien; it is what we hear and what we say. He writes, "In the timbre of the voice, spirit manifests itself the only way it is possible for it, which is body and soul." (p.44) I discover my identity in the words I focus on in my listening and memory, and the words I speak, in turn, become the words that shape others. Therefore, John the Baptizer occurs to Chretien as one who embodies in minute detail this vital function of words as he announces the coming of the Word in the flesh. Chretien continues his meditation further quoting from St. Augustine's sermon, "John represents the voice and is not only the voice. Everyman (sic) who announces the Word is the voice of the Word. What the speech of my lips is to the word I carry inside, each devout soul is to the Word when announcing the same Word." To which Chretien adds, "Even having come, the word needs still and needs always to be announced by new voices. Even having been born, the Word still needs to be born in each person." (p.65)

John's father, Zechariah, had been stuck dumb when he was told that in their old age he and Elizabeth would have a son. But he recovered his voice when the son was born and, in Luke's careful story telling, the words of the great king David and the great prophet Isaiah spontaneously flowed in giddy joy out of him. The writer given the name Malachi longs so deeply to hear the words "as in days of old" for it he imagines the Lord sending a new "messenger."

To paraphrase Chretien, it is in having listened carefully to the words of God's promises and choosing to repeat them for ourselves that we discover who we are, our purpose and become, for others, the source of those life giving words. This is the definition of preaching. But it is really shared by
anyone who chooses to take in those words and own them as her own so that when she repeats them they are worth listening to. By making these words my own, the Word comes to me, is in me.