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 heard the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name. For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God's worship.
Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God. Led away on foot by their enemies they left you: but God will bring them back to you borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones. For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God. The forests and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God's command; for God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.(P) The word of the Lord.
When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing. (R)
Then they said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them." The Lord had done great things for us; we are glad indeed. (R)
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the torrents in the southern desert. Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing. (R)
Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves. (R)
Brothers and sisters: I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God is my witness, how I long for all of your with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.(P) The word of the Lord.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
With the start of the Advent season, we have also begun the Liturgical Year C and our study of the gospel of Luke. Last week, we looked at the historical origins of Advent and its significance, and glanced through the gospel text from Luke which dealt with Jesus' prophecy of His Second Coming at the end of the age, Luke (21:25-28; 34-36). Today, we shall focus on two people - Luke the evangelist and John the prophet.
Who was Luke and what do we know about him? Many biblical scholars believe that Luke was a Greek physician who lived in the city of Antioch in ancient Syria, which is now a major town in modern-day Turkey, about 12 miles from the Syrian border. Some other scholars think that Luke was a Hellenistic Jew, meaning a Greek-speaking Jew, or a gentile Christian. He was a companion of Paul, and had accompanied him on several missionary journeys, Colossians (4:14); Philemon (24); 2 Timothy (4:11). He had not known Jesus personally and, yet, has beautifully told the story of the life of Jesus in two books - the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.
Both books are believed to have been written between 60-85AD, for Theophilus, a Roman official and friend in Jerusalem, and for the Gentile Christians like him, in order to strengthen their faith in Jesus, the Messiah, Luke (1:13). His sources may have been those people who, from the beginning, were eyewitnesses of Jesus' birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, including Mother Mary and the apostles, Luke (1:2). He may have also used the gospels of both Mark and Matthew which had been written by then.
Luke has recounted the Christ - related events in a more accurate and larger historical, social, and geographical framework than any other writer. For instance, in today's Gospel reading, Luke sets the ministry of John in its political and religious context. He identifies the rulers of the day, from the Roman emperor down to more regional, local officials and, alongside, he places John's preaching in the wilderness of Judea.
At the time of the emergence of John, Tiberias Caesar was infamous for brutal licentiousness and ferocious cruelty. Pontius Pilate was known to be a cold-blooded murderer and executioner. Herod, Philip, and Lysanias, all from the family of Herod the Great were renowned for corruption and cruelty. The families of two high priests, Annas and Caiaphas, were known for greed, bribery, wealth, and power. All these leaders would play leading roles in Jesus' trial later. Besides this, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the general populace of people in John's day had fallen into corrupt religious system, ritualism, worldliness, hypocrisy, and superficiality. They were in a tremendous need of revival of religion, for they had compromised and walked far away from the Lord; their hearts had become very hard toward the Lord.
By carefully enumerating the list of evil civil and religious authorities, Luke not only shows the readers of the undeniable evidence that these people lived and ruled in these places and at these times, but also reminds them of the corruption and moral degradation of the Roman Empire, especially in the distant provinces like Judea. Therefore, John called the people to return to God, repent of sins and receive His forgiveness. Here, Luke considers the emergence of John the Baptist as one of the hinges of a significant turning point in history. That is, the coming of John drew to a close the age of the Law and the Prophets, whilst also inaugurated the messianic age, the age of redemption with Christ's first coming.
While there were many important and prestigious people, God chose a relatively unknown man, John, as the Messiah's forerunner. He came from a common, simple and, undistinguished priestly family. He was leading an ascetic life in the Judean desert, clothed in camel hair, and subsisting on locusts and wild honey, when "the Word of God came to him", Matthew (3:4) and Mark (1:6). That is to say that John was called by God to start his ministry, and he went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins", Luke (3:1-3).
John's invitation to baptism, a ceremonial immersion, was nothing new for his Jewish hearers. In his day, Gentiles who wished to become Jews were required to immerse themselves in water, to wash away the stain of being unclean Gentiles. By doing this, they would reset their lives and embark on a new way of living. And also, the ascetic sect of Jews, known as Qumran community, regularly observed the ritual cleansing of body and soul. John took the Jewish tradition and applied them to the Jews themselves as a sign that it was not just the Gentiles who needed cleansing, and that they also had to get right with God and be cleansed.
In other words, John's call to repentance, metanoia in Greek, is much more than "guilt" or "regret", or thumping one's heart and decrying one's sinfulness, or saying, "I am sorry. Please forgive my sins". Rather, repentance means a change of mind and heart, the kind of inner transformation that bears visible fruit. In the Gospel for next Sunday, when the crowds ask him what they must do, John will spell out precisely the sorts of fruits God expects to see in people, Luke (3:10-14). Thus, the baptism John performed had a specific purpose. It would lead to, not only forgiveness, but also liberty from sins.
John was considered an important enough person since his involvement in the coming of the Messiah was made known to prophets of the Old Testament hundreds of years beforehand, Isaiah (40:3-5); 1 Nehemiah (10:7-10); 1 Nehemiah (11:27) and Malachi (3:1; 4:5). Although the prophets did not mention him by name, undoubtedly, their prophesies were concerning John the Baptist, his mission, his message and his methods. The importance of John in the divine scheme of things is summed up best in the testimony of Jesus himself. He honours the prophet with these words: "Among those born of women there has not arisen one greater than John the Baptist", Luke (7:28) and Matthew (11:11).
In today's gospel, Luke speaks of John fulfilling a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God", Luke (3:4-6) and Isaiah (40:3-5).
What does that mean? Isaiah had used imagery to speak of the preparations made for the coming of a great king. During his time, anyone who heard the proclamation would have known to what it referred. At that time, more than six centuries before the time of Jesus, people of the present Palestine or Israel were living in villages and towns far away from the cities where their rulers lived. There were no flat, straight, paved interstate highways. There were just rough, winding trails through the wilderness. The local ruler would visit them every year to collect the tributes from them in exchange for the protection in his kingdom. Ahead of his visit, he would send a messenger to tell the people he was on his way. And when they heard the news, the people would go out and make the roads as smooth and straight as possible before the ruler came.
Isaiah had foretold that the herald or the forerunner for the Messiah would tell the people exactly what a messenger of a ruler would declare. So, finally, John came and called on the people to prepare for the coming of the Lord by levelling the mountains and valleys, and by straightening the winding roads and smoothening the paths. In other words, John wanted his listeners to remove all the obstacles, i.e., sinful attitudes and behaviours, and receive baptism as a sign of repentance and acceptance of the gift of salvation offered by the Messiah.
What is the message for us?
We might say that we trust God and yet, many a time, we easily get frustrated and discouraged, even angry, with God about a prayer that is not being answered, or when God delays answering our requests. Today's gospel narrative reminds us that, just as "when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son Jesus" and sent John to prepare the people to receive Him, He will act on His own timing in our lives as well - at just the right time and circumstances, according to His will, Galatians (4:4).
There is an appointed time or God's time for everything in our lives, be it a job, or enterprise, or marriage, or travel, or any need. His timing will be always be perfect, even when we do not put our trust in it. He may be putting everything in place before revealing His answer to us. He will surely come to our aid but only He knows the hour and the day. Until then, we shall trust in God's judgment and purpose for his delay, and patiently wait and persist in prayer.
I wish you and your family a very blessed and joyous Christmas.
God Bless You!