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Advent, week 2. Sunday. Word of THE WORD

ANTIPHON
O people of Sion, behold,
the Lord will come to save the nations,
and the Lord will make the glory of His voice heard
in the joy of your heart. (Isaiah 30:19,30)


COLLECT
Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet Your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to His company,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy. (Psalm 126: 3).


GOSPEL EXCERPT (click for all readings)
““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 (ἑτοιμάσατε, etoimasate) the way of the Lord,
make (ποιεῖτε, poieite) straight (εὐθείας, eutheias) 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 3:3-6)


REFLECTION
“Prepare!” When you think about Advent and its meaning, prepare is certainly among the top 5 words synonymous with this Season and its consequent way of living. Together with the command and action “make straight,” the command “prepare” stand at the forefront of the wildly hope-filled Isaian text declaring (not simply wishing) that God is up to a mighty work, some might even say a ‘re-creation,’ that will transform captivity into freedom. Hymns, oratorios and even Broadway shows have enshrined this powerful prophetic text that all Evangelists use at some point early in the Gospel text to describe the person and the work of John the Baptist (the Gospel of John begins the Isaian citation with the command “make straight” omitting “prepare the way of the Lord.”).


ἑτοιμάζω (hetoimazo) is the Greek verb translated here “prepare.” This is also the same Greek verb used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures). Of the family of verbs that speak “to prepare” or “to make ready,” many of these verbs - ἑτοιμάζω included – are linked to the biblical experience “to create.” ἑτοιμάζω, as an action ground in biblical creation, is thus connected to the activity that transforms chaos into cosmos (order) and brings a wholly new reality into existence. What makes ἑτοιμάζω rather unique is that among the verbs “to prepare” that are linked to the Divine activity “to create,” ἑτοιμάζω speaks more of an internal ordering, an internal creating. This is why Origen of Alexandria wrote, “The Lord wants to find in you a path by which he can enter into your souls and make his journey. Prepare for him the path of which it is said, “Make straight his path.” “The voice of one crying in the desert” – the voice cries, “prepare the way (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke).”” This internal work has a particular result in mind: ‘standing tall and firm because God will provide.’ This biblical virtue of ‘standing tall and firm’ is the opposite of being weighed down, hunched over by all sorts of external realities and threats to existence that have sickened life internally resulting in a life devoid of confidence, energy and purpose. Covenant-living people know not only the reality of the threats and consequences that come with them, they know also their personal powerlessness – and – it is in this powerlessness that the people of the Covenant know the providence of God Who “hears the cry of the poor” and lifts them from their misery.
This opens the door to a more precise grasp of the Advent command “to prepare.” As a verb steeped in the biblical experience of Creation, no one of us initiates the work! The preparatory work synonymous with Advent is not a “to-do” list of my own creation. Sure, there are probably great ‘things to do’ on the list, things that are highly noble (for example, the Sacrament of Penance this Season to deal with sin, one’s internal and external chaos, must be tops on the list). Everything on the list however, has to be written by the hand of God and acted in the mode of response. “I” do not drive the bus of Advent preparation. “I” respond to what is asked of me. But how is this done?
We need to examine further the biblical command “prepare” that the Gospel places before us. While Luke along with Mark and Matthew directly quote the prophet Isaiah, the quotation appears to be from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. When we take a step back and ponder “prepare” in the Hebrew text of Isaiah, some further light brightens this command for Advent and the whole of Christian living. Isaiah, in proclaiming the hope-filled Word of God to a captive people, employs the Hebrew verb, פָּנָה (panah). פָּנָה means “to turn” and when the verb is used in dealing with people, its meaning is a bit more precise: “turn to face the other.” No doubt some readers might wonder about the other Hebrew verb “to turn” that is often translated “to repent” - שׁוּב (shûb). Shûb expresses “turn” more in the way of a “return.” One knows he or she has lost his or her way and is now moving in the proper direction. Panah is more about turning in the sense ‘to connect to another’ – and in the interest of fair and balanced reporting, panah can also speak about ‘turning away from another’s face.’
Hence one can hold that Advent’s proper preparatory works lies in being turned to the face of another and more specifically the Face of Jesus Christ. Being turned to gaze on the Face of Jesus Christ and to permit ‘connecting with Him’ is precisely what that Wildman of the Jordan – John the Baptist was doing. As people were intrigued by the prophetic word he spoke, he made sure that eventually people – including himself – were connected to Jesus. Beholding the Face of Jesus, gazing into His eyes – being captivated and held by Him is the deeply preparatory work of Advent and indeed the whole of our lives. When the posture of our lives faces Him, He writes the ‘to-do list’ for life. ‘Be prepared,’ ‘be ready’ for a surprise as to what He writes on the list!