December 02, 2009

Second Sunday of Advent

By Brian Pizzalato *
First Reading – Bar. 5:1-9

Responsorial Psalm – Ps. 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6

Second Reading – Phil. 1:4-6, 8-11

Gospel Reading – Lk. 3:1-6

In the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, we have a profound confluence of scriptural texts. Beginning with the Prophet Baruch who spoke during the time of the Babylonian captivity and exile of the southern Kingdom of Judah, we are led across the spectrum of salvation history to the Gospel of Luke, who quotes from the prophet Isaiah. Baruch and Isaiah speak about the end of the exile, the regathering of the People of God and the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s covenant plan.

In Jesus’ day, centuries after the Babylonian captivity, the people of God still saw themselves as exiles in their own land. This continued exile is indicated by the prophet Daniel who is told by God that even though they would physically come back after seventy years, they would still be spiritually in exile. Daniel says, “Seventy weeks of years have been decreed concerning your people and your holy city” (Daniel 9:24). This basically means four hundred and ninety years. He also mentions how “an anointed one shall be cut off…” (Daniel 9:26). It is not by coincidence that when Jesus comes he proclaims “liberty to captives” (Luke 4:18).

With regard to Isaiah 40:3-5, it must be understood within its context. Isaiah 40-55 begins what is known as the book of consolation within the book of Isaiah. This comes after chapters 1-39 which speak of unremitting punishment for their sins, and how they would be taken into exile. Importantly, Isaiah 40-55 uses language reminiscent of Israel’s first exodus --when, as former slaves, they came up out of Egypt. The original exodus outline of being delivered from Egyptian bondage, journeying through the desert, and entering into the Promised Land is transformed into a current hope for a new and greater exodus.

However, Isaiah 56-66 speaks to those who have now returned from Babylon. This section of Isaiah says that this new exodus will not yet come about in Isaiah's time, even though they are physically out of captivity. Isaiah says that the new exodus would be delayed until the future messianic suffering servant comes to deliver them. Moreover, there is to be a preparation for the coming of Yahweh (God’s covenant name given to Moses in Exodus 3:14) to lead them out of captivity. This we read, “Prepare the way of the Lord [Yahweh]” (Luke 3:4b).

The prophet Baruch tells the people of the exile to “take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever” (5:1). Both Baruch and Isaiah are giving the people hope in the midst of trial. Baruch speaks to the regathering of the twelve tribes of Israel. “Up Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One…” (Baruch 5:5). The people are called to look to the east. The east, in the Old Testament, was seen to be the place of exile, beginning with Adam and Eve being sent east of the Garden of Eden, and Cain being sent even further east of Eden (cf. Genesis 3:24). As Genesis says, “Cain went away from the presence of the Lord…east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16). To be in exile is to be away from the presence of the Lord. However, God promises that his scattered children will be once again gathered.

Luke speaks of the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s saving plan. This is important on a couple of counts. First, it has always been God’s plan to include all peoples under the umbrella of his saving mercy. This is made obvious through God’s calling and covenant with Abraham. We are told that Abram’s name is changed to Abraham precisely because he will be “a father of a multitude of nations [Gentiles]” (Genesis 17:5).

Second, the northern Kingdom of Israel, which included ten of the twelve tribes, was taken into captivity and scattered among the nations by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. In essence, the tribes were never to be seen again. They were forcibly intermixed and integrated into the various nations over which Assyria ruled. However, there are prophecies which speak of the regathering of all of the twelve tribes. The only way this is possible is through God bringing together all the nations. Isaiah prophecies, “…all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (40:5). All the nations being included in God’s saving plan would, of course, be important to Luke, a Gentile.

One last point needs to be made clear: Luke is introducing John the Baptist so that we might more plainly understand the identity of Jesus. John the Baptist is the one who is to prepare the way for the coming of Yahweh. John, as we know, prepares the way for Jesus. Therefore, Jesus is Yahweh. Jesus’ name means “Yahweh’s salvation” and Isaiah prophecies that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (40:5). Jesus is at one and the same time Yahweh and Yahweh’s salvation.
Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate, Diocese of Duluth and is a faculty member of the Philosophy department of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England.

Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on

Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.

Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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