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December 3, 2008
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
Dec. 7: Second Sunday of Advent
Theme: Herald of glad tidings. On the second and third Sundays of Advent John the Baptist occupies a central place. His appearance marks the end of an age that is passing away and the start of another. To prepare the people for the advent of Christ John proclaimed “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Like Isaiah before him, John the Baptist is a herald of glad tidings. The reading from Isaiah is one of the best known passages in the Old Testament. It was written around 538 B.C. when Babylon was declining and the Persian Empire was on the rise. Israel’s exile was coming to an end. God, the good shepherd, will soon gather his people and lead them safely back to the Promised Land. Our second reading speaks to those who worried about the second coming of Christ. Some early Christians believed that Christ’s return was immanent but persecutions made them wonder why God delayed. The answer is clear: God does not want anyone to perish. He is patient, giving sinners time to repent. We should live, however, as if the time is short. John the Baptist brings a striking sense of urgency as he exhorts the people to “prepare the way of the Lord” by prayer and repentance.
Key verse: “Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news!” (Is 40:9)
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “The fidelity of the baptized is a primordial condition for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the Church’s mission in the world. In order that the message of salvation can show the power of its truth and radiance before men, it must be authenticated by the witness of the life of Christians” (No. 2044).
Pope Benedict XVI: “The Baptist’s appearance on the scene was something completely new. The Baptism that he enjoined is different from the usual religious ablutions. It cannot be repeated, and it is meant to be the concrete enactment of a conversion that give the whole of life and new direction forever.” (“Jesus of Nazareth”).
Application: The world in its present form is passing away. We’re living at a time of unprecedented change which is causing a lot of people enormous anxiety and fear. It’s at times like this that the Gospel really is “tidings of comfort and joy.” Like John the Baptist, we are called to be heralds of the good news of Jesus Christ. Ignited by our Baptism and sustained by the Sacraments, the light of Christ has been given to us so that world can see and believe and hope in God again. As Catholics we have a special responsibility to “let our light shine” (Mt 5:16) by living our Catholic faith well. When the world is dark even the tiniest flame shines brightly.