08 December 2012


Second Sunday of Advent
Lk 3:1-6 (Bar 5:1-9 / Ps 126 / Phil 1:4-6, 8-11)

In Hebrew, “word” is dabar (דָּבַר), and “word of the Lord” is dabar Yahweh (דָּבַר יהוה).  For Hebrews, dabar is very powerful; how much more dabar Yahweh!  The Hebrews of Biblical times believed that a reality can be called into existence simply by uttering its name.  Perhaps, this explains partly the tradition behind one of the two versions of the creation story in the book of Genesis, where God creates by simply saying the word for what He wants to exist.  This also tells us why Hebrews believe in blessings and curses.  And they take prophecies seriously because a prophecy is dabar Yahweh in dabar nabi (דָּבַר נביא), “the word of God” in the “word of the prophet”.  Words are sacred for the Jews.  The word of God is even more sacred for them.

In the Old Testament, the glory of God is said to have departed from His People when His voice could no longer be heard.  For example, in 1 Sm 4:21-22, we read that when Eli, the priest in the Temple, passed away, his daughter-in-law, Phinehas, conceived and gave birth to a son whom she named “Ichabod”.  In Hebrew, ikavod means “no glory”.  Phinehas named her child “Ichabod” because they were experiencing the absence of God’s glory, for the Ark of the Covenant was captured by their enemies, the Philistines.  But even before the Ark of the Covenant was taken away by the Philistines, 1 Sm 3:1 says that because of the prevailing corruption in Israel, from the ordinary citizens to the priests in the Temple, there was already a grave problem with the relationship between God and His People: “In those days, revelations of the Lord were uncommon and visions were rare.”  At first, God seldom spoke; then, finally, He totally stopped talking to them.  Thereupon, it was said that the glory of God departed from the house of Israel.  God’s glory was no longer with His People not only because the Ark of the Covenant was stolen by the enemies but also because He stopped talking.  It was then that a little boy was born by an otherwise barren woman and was raised in the Temple.  The boy’s name was Samuel (שְׁמוּאֵל), meaning, “God heard”, because God decided to talk to His People again after hearing their pleas.  God started to break His silence and His glory gradually returned to His People.

Today, on the Second Sunday of Advent, God speaks to us.  His glory has not departed from us!  The truth is we hear four voices speaking His word to us.  These four voices encourage us to look at the good future that God has in store for us.  They are voices that invite us to see the best and live accordingly, fanning into flame hope in our hearts to fund our resolve to change for the better.

The first voice is from the Prophet Baruch.  The Prophet speaks God’s word: “…take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever….  For God will show all the earth your splendor….  …see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God.”  Clearly, God speaks through His prophet about the good things to come upon them, animating their hope and giving them courage again in the future.

The psalmist’s voice adds to this theme of encouragement.  Through our responsorial psalm today, the word of God reminds us of the wonders God already did for His People, how He led them unto freedom and turned their tears into joy.  With God’s marvellous deeds kept in our memory, we have reason to hope the He who did great things in the past would do even greater things in our time and age.

The third voice is that of St. Paul’s.  Still with the special note of encouragement, the Apostle expresses his appreciation for the kindness of the brethren in Philippi with which they assisted him in his ministry as a servant of the Gospel of Jesus.  Telling them how much he loves them, Paul prays that their love may increase even more as God continue bringing to completion the good He had begun in them.  Through Paul’s voice, God speaks to the Philippians, thanking them, affirming them, and blessing them that they may be pure and blameless, filled with righteousness through Jesus Christ, His Son.

John the Baptist provides the fourth voice for the word of God today.  In the Gospel, the Baptist proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and announces the great day to come when “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  The man we are rather accustomed to hear almost like a doomsday prophet, condemning with fire and fury the immorality prevalent around him, now speaks about an exciting deliverance and encourages his hearers to prepare in expectant hope.

Interestingly, these four voices in today’s liturgy do not strike down their hearers with the naked truth, for doing so may only deepen their hopelessness.  These voices have the ring of hope, encouraging people to change their ways for the better and grow because good things are yet to come.  All who hear these voices are inspired to consider the best there is in God, in themselves, and in other people so as to give that best the chance to significantly influence their lives.  Today, as in the time when they first spoke their messages, we need to hear these voices.  We are also challenged to add our voices to theirs.

Advent challenges us to be voices that will help people begin changing for the better by encouraging them to see the best in themselves, not by condemning them to dwell on the worst in themselves.  And if fraternal correction dictates upon us to point out what’s wrong with people, we should not simply tell them their mistakes and leave it at that, for doing so may only shatter their lives.  Seldom do people change for the better when they are left to themselves, imprisoned by their mistakes, gazing at their flaws, because there is no one to care whether they change or not.

Advent is a time of encouraging one another, not of condemning one another.  Let us appreciate the good in others, recognize it, thank it, highlight it, and praise it.  But not playing blind to the faults of others, Christian charity also urges us to help them leave behind familiar ways what destroy them and those around them.  We all need to be prodded on toward becoming the best we can be: “Go!  You can do it!”  We all need some help in imagining our selves differently so as to strive becoming what God wants us to be.  And we also need the help of one another’s faith in God to see that His power is at work in us as we answer His call to change for the better.  If we do our part and continue encouraging one another in this way, we shall clearly see that God does not forsake us in our halting efforts, but rather, as the Apostle Paul says in the second reading today, “…the One who began a good work in you will continue to complete it.”

Let this Advent season strengthen our resolve to call out the best in one another as St. Paul does with his converts, and rejoice in the changes that one another has so far made for the better.  The Apostle Paul, certainly, knows what he is saying, for he himself had to make big and radical changes in his life, and the Philippians, to whom he writes in the second reading today, provided him with encouragement in his big and radical change by accepting him as an apostle of the Lord despite his past.

The word of the Lord is powerful, without it the glory of God departs from His People.  Let that word be our word, too.  Let that glory remain with us by speaking the Word of God to one another.  May we be voices by which the Lord encourages all we meet in this life to be the best they are meant to be for God.

When Christmas day comes, we will commemorate the birthday of Jesus again.  He is the incarnation of the Word of God.  Jesus Himself is God’s glory not only returning but also dwelling among us.  May we become like Jesus.


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