December 9, 2018, Second Sunday of Advent
This reading expresses the loyalty of widely scattered Jews to their homeland and its single temple in Jerusalem. The metaphor is that Jerusalem finally sees its exiled citizens coming home. Led by God, their path is made level and smooth.
Christians in Philippi had received Saint Paul and his gospel eagerly, and had helped him on further apostolic missions. Paul loves them and is confident that they'll be ready when Jesus comes again in glory.
Today's gospel passage is from Luke's treatment of the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. John the Baptist uses the same "smoothed path" image we heard in the first reading. But it is the Lord, not exiles, traveling the path now.
The Historical Situation: Enemies practically destroyed Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E., deporting many Jews to Babylon. Almost fifty years later, Cyrus the Persian defeated Babylon and decreed that exiles could return to their homelands. Many Jews returned to Judah and Jerusalem, but some stayed behind among the pagans. These people became known as the Diaspora ("dispersion") Jews. Most remained faithful to their religion, but cut off from the single Temple, which was in distant Jerusalem and not yet rebuilt anyway, they became People of The Book. That is, they nourished their faith on the teaching of God's word delivered by prophets, scribes, and priests, primarily in their synagogue gatherings. They continued to feel their kinship with Judah's Jews and express longing for Jerusalem and its Temple, but their writings are primarily about keeping the faith in a pagan milieu.
The book we read from today is named for Baruch, the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah who lived earlier in Jerusalem and in exile. But the book's contents convince us that it's a Diaspora document. This passage expresses the dispersed Jews' loyalty to Jerusalem. It rehearses a prophecy that Baruch or Jeremiah might have delivered in that devastated city when exiles began to trickle home.
Understanding the Details: The first paragraph has three images of Jerusalem "dressing up" for the return of the exiles. Be sure you know the meaning and pronunciation of "mitre." In last Sunday's passage, Jeremiah said the restored exiles would be known by the new name "The Lord [is] our justice [perhaps better, 'our righteousness']". Baruch declares their new names will be "the peace of justice, the glory of God's worship."
Baruch 5:7 shares with Isaiah 40:3f this startling image: Between the land of the Captivity and Jerusalem, the desert will be leveled, its mountains smoothed down and its valleys filled up, so the returning exiles can travel in ease. Isaiah's version is familiar to us from the gospel sayings of John the Baptist, and from the aria "Every Valley" in Handel's Messiah.
Your Proclamation: This is not an easy passage to proclaim. Its message is straightforward but its images are hard to grasp. How do you picture in your mind the following? "Wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name." To prepare, go over every sentence carefully, so you understand the relations among the clauses. Mark up the text with a pencil if that will help. Then, at the lectern, try to communicate to the assembly the prophet's grand hope and his excitement.
The Historical Situation: This is another of those Pauline passages referring to the second coming of Jesus, here named "the day of Christ" and "the day of Christ Jesus." But that's not where the emphasis really lies. Paul was very fond of the Philippian Christians, and very pleased with their spiritual progress and maturity.
Proclaiming the Passage: Paul's affection for the Philippians gives a clue about how you should proclaim this. Imagine yourself a retired pastor, or a veteran bishop, giving a word of encouragement to a congregation. The congregation is special to you; you know them well, they're good and cooperative, you love each other dearly. You just want to encourage them to keep on doing their best.
This page updated October 30, 2018