— Words of the WORD —
Second Sunday of Advent

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. (cf Isaiah 30: 19, 20).

Responsorial Psalm
Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85:8).

Scripture Excerpt
“The beginning of the gospel (Αρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου) of Jesus Christ [the Son of God]. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare (κατασκευάσει) your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare (ἑτοιμάσατε) the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert (ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ) proclaiming a baptism of repentance (μετανοίας) for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:1-4).”

Do you have a favorite Advent Text from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah? For many, this Sunday’s proclamation from the Prophet of Hope is the signature Word of Advent found in the Old Testament only overshadowed by Isaiah 7:14 (“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign, the virgin will be with child and you shall name him Emmanuel.”) Both Godspell and George Frederick Handel, not to mention other artists, have given us beautiful renditions of the Biblical Text that make it hard to choose. Perhaps the Latin quip, “De gustibus non est disputandum” (loosely translated, “One does not argue about tastes”) can help to keep the peace – OR – an even more important theological word – the conjunction AND – will serve us even better. We need the Word of Hope (Isaiah 40) – AND – the Word that promises the WORD (Isaiah 7).

As for the Text at hand, all four Evangelists employ some aspects of Isaiah 40 as Jesus’ Public Ministry commences in the region of Galilee, with the Synoptic Writers including the command “Prepare (ἑτοιμάσατε) [Mark 1:2, Matthew 3:3 and Luke 3:4].” Note clearly the verses in this Sunday’s proclamation from Mark: “Behold, … he will prepare (κατασκευάσει) your way (Mark 1:2)” and “A voice … ‘Prepare (ἑτοιμάσατε) the way of the Lord’ (Mark 1:3).” The English word prepare appears twice in 2 verses, yet the Greek verbs are different: κατασκευάζω (kataskeuazo in verse 2) and ἑτοιμάζω (hetoimazo, in verse 3). Is the Evangelist making a point here by using two separate verbs or is he simply availing himself of a theological thesaurus, varying the words to keep our attention?

Considering the myriad of insights one could bring to the Marcan Gospel, ‘fluff’ is not one of the Evangelist’s characteristics. In fact, when one examines the Greek Text of what is perhaps the first written Gospel, one quickly discovers difficulty in reading. Saint Mark’s favorite word is AND (καί, kai in Greek). It seems he grammatically has confused the word and with a period. Many note that he writes in ‘run-on’ sentences and the over use of and joining 1 thought to another is a nightmare for teachers and professors of writing. But this gives us an insight into the Evangelist. For Mark, time is short – not necessarily chronologically but time in the sense of acting now to prevent a situation from getting worse. One might liken this to an infection in the body: far better to ‘nip it [the infection] in the bud’ because if it is permitted to fester, one runs the risk of a loss of limb or even one’s physical life despite aggressive antibiotic medications. The Evangelist bluntly, boldly and urgently records the events of Jesus’ Words and Deeds with the intent that one will permit the Person Jesus to transform the hard heart and open one’s heart to the Kingdom (this is part (and I do stress part)) of what “repentance [μετάνοια metanoia” means in the Marcan Gospel (much more on metanoia and Kingdom of God, not to mention desert when we return to Ordinary Time).

This background is meant to form a basis not only for our reception of Mark’s Gospel this Liturgical Year, but also to make a case, from a human perspective, that the 2 distinct verbs – both translated into English as prepare – is intentional on Saint Mark’s part. In verse 3, notice the proximity of the command (yes, take note: a command! - and recall last week’s reflection about ‘command’) ἑτοιμάσατε (hetoimasate) to the verse concerning John the Baptist’s proclamation of “baptism of repentance (μετανοίας) for the forgiveness of sins.” While μετάνοια (metanoia) is often translated “repentance,” it is composed of 2 Greek words: “beyond (μετά, meta)” and “mind (νοῦς, nous).” To go “beyond the mind” in antiquity was the equivalent of “going to/from the heart.” ἑτοιμάσατε (hetoimasate) is about putting ‘heart’ into your thoughts, your words and your actions. Permitting your heart to invade thoughts, words and actions minimally raises the bar of attentiveness. Increasing attentiveness is more properly perceived and received as recognizing that the Holy Spirit is guiding my life and all of our lives. When you and I are inattentive and attempt to run life according to personal agendas, life gets messed-up and messed-up big time! Remember what happened in the Garden: when humanity stopped listening to the words of the Creator, our guard dropped. Our inattentiveness to the words and instructions of life from the Creator resulted in listening to another voice, a divided voice that brought division and alienation into human nature requiring the incarnate and consubstantial intervention of Jesus the Christ.

Speaking of the Garden … there is still another prepare verb to consider: κατασκευάζω (kataskeuazo in verse 2). Many English translations of the Sacred Scriptures render this verb prepare, and do so perhaps because the verb is not frequently used in the New Testament. Literally κατασκευάζω (kataskeuazo) means ‘to create’ or ‘to fashion vessels necessary for persons to live.’ This verb has a decidedly concrete, touchable, tangible – CREATED focus. Notice the proximity of this verse to the opening verse: “The beginning of the gospel (Αρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου) of Jesus Christ” (verse 1). Biblically, Αρχὴ (arche, beginning) has a connection with THE beginning, Genesis. This is the same Greek word that Saint John uses to begin the Fourth Gospel and it is the same word that is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX). The Creation motif is certainly not out of place here and it ties in well with Advent being both a time and a way of living in which something is new, something new is being created. Naturally the question arises, what? What is being created? What is new?

Recall some of the insights from a previous blog – on the Threshold of Advent. Advent is a time of a new creation – a creation that is not only spiritual (change of heart) but also something that is quite touchable, tangible and visible. While the Season is about being made ready for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, the readiness for His Nativity requires the creation of a new attitude in us who bear His Name. The attitude or disposition is this: as a Christian, as a Catholic Christian, Lutheran Christian, Anglican Christian, etc … is Jesus the singularly, unique Person in my life and in the life of our parishes or Christian communities? Does Jesus ground and root my life and the life of our parishes? This is the crux of the New Evangelization. The vast majority of people who call themselves “Christian” have an intellectual, catechism, cultural ‘knowledge’ ABOUT Jesus, but this knowledge has not sprung or been permitted to become love FOR, WITH and OF Jesus. Knowing what we have done and do for people we love, the same can be the pattern for growing in love that Christ offers. Being with Him, hanging out in silent prayer, attentive celebration of the Sacraments and pondering of His Word, saying NO to anything not of Him and charitable serve in His Name are some of the simple acts to respond to His invitation of love. Accepting this invitation permits His work of loving creation to continue in our lives and the lives of our communities.

Reluctantly, I bring this entry to a close. I write ‘reluctantly’ because the word Gospel deserves some attention. After all, Saint Mark is the only Evangelist who begins the Evangelical Text and tells us what he is up to – a Gospel. Popularly, many contend that the word Gospel means ‘good news’ and unfortunately leave it at that. “Good news” about what? “Good news” about Who? Some thoughts will be offered later in this Liturgical Year ... stay tuned.

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. Amen.

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