"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
December 4, 2011: Second Sunday of Advent
Theme: Again, we recall that Isaiah lived during a time of grave peril for Jerusalem. The northern kingdom had been destroyed by Assyria and Judah, the southern kingdom, plagued with idolatry and corruption, was on the verge of collapse. With Assyria’s armies on her doorstep, the people of Jerusalem needed a hero; a mighty savior who would save them from their enemies.
This week’s first reading, one of the great messianic prophesies, describes the ideal king who will spring from David’s line and rule with wisdom and courage. It was an ideal, however, that remained unfulfilled until the coming Christ.
In the second reading, Paul emphasizes the importance of the Old Testament and how it prepared the way for Christ. In numerous passages through the Old Testament, Christ is prefigured, predicted or promised in one way or another. The passage from Isaiah in the first reading is a perfect example. Because the promises of the Old Testament have been fulfilled in Christ, we now live in hope “glorifying the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The second, third and fourth Sundays of Advent call to mind the first coming of the Messiah.
The central figure in this week’s Gospel is John the Baptist who, like the prophets before him, was sent to prepare the way of the Lord. His clothing of camel’s hair and leather belt is a clear allusion to Elijah in fulfillment of Malachi 4:5. The setting is also important. John was baptizing in the exact spot where Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan and into the Promised Land.
Key verse: “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The economy of the Old Testament was deliberately so oriented that it should prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of Christ, redeemer of all men. The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two testaments through typology, which discerns in God’s works of the old covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son. Christians, therefore, read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen” (No. 122; 128).
Pope Benedict XVI: “God reveals himself in history. He speaks to humankind, and the word he speaks has creative power. The Old Testament announces to the children of Israel the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of a ‘new’ covenant; in the word made flesh he fulfils his promise” (World Youth Day, April 9, 2006)
Application: Some people have an aversion to the Old Testament because they think it depicts a god who is radically different from the God of the New Testament. Not so. The Church has always opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament under the pretext of being superseded by the new. The Old Testament is full of allusions to Christ. Like John the Baptist, it points to Christ who brings light and hope to a troubled world. As an old saying goes, the New Testament lies hidden in the old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the new.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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