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Monday, December 2, 2013

0314: Reflections on the Second Sunday of Advent
by Pope Benedict XVI



Entry 0314: Reflections on the Second Sunday of Advent 

by 
Pope Benedict XVI during His Pontificate 





On eight occasions during his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Second Sunday of Advent, on 4 December 2005, 10 December 2006, 9 December 2007, 7 December 2008, 6 December 2009, 5 December 2010, 4 December 2011, and 9 December 2012. Here are the texts of eight brief reflections before the recitation of the Angelus and one homily delivered on these occasions.


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Second Sunday of Advent, 4 December 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this season of Advent, while the Ecclesial Community is preparing for and celebrating the great mystery of the Incarnation, it is invited to rediscover and deepen its own personal relationship with God. The Latin word “adventus” refers to the coming of Christ and brings to the fore God’s movement towards humanity, to which each is called to respond with openness, expectation, seeking and attachment. And as God is sovereignly free in revealing and giving himself because he is motivated solely by love, so the human person is also free in giving his or her own, even dutiful, assent:  God expects a response of love.

In these days, the liturgy presents to us as a perfect model of this response the Virgin Mary, whom this 8 December we will contemplate in the mystery of the Immaculate Conception.

The Virgin is the One who continues to listen, always ready to do the Lord’s will; she is an example for the believer who lives in search of God. The Second Vatican Council dedicated an attentive reflection to this topic as well as to the relationship between truth and freedom.

In particular, the Council Fathers approved, precisely 40 years ago, a Declaration on the question of religious liberty, that is, the right of persons and of communities to seek the truth and to profess their faith freely. The first words that give this document its title are dignitatis humanae“:  religious liberty derives from the special dignity of the human person, who is the only one of all the creatures on this earth who can establish a free and conscious relationship with his or her Creator.

“It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons, that is, beings endowed with reason and free will..., are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth” (Dignitatis Humanae, no. 2).

Thus, the Second Vatican Council reaffirms the traditional Catholic doctrine which holds that men and women, as spiritual creatures, can know the truth and therefore have the duty and the right to seek it (see ibid., no. 3).

Having laid this foundation, the Council places a broad emphasis on religious liberty, which must be guaranteed both to individuals and to communities with respect for the legitimate demands of the public order. And after 40 years, this conciliar teaching is still most timely.

Religious liberty is indeed very far from being effectively guaranteed everywhere:  in certain cases it is denied for religious or ideological reasons; at other times, although it may be recognizable on paper, it is hindered in effect by political power or, more cunningly, by the cultural predomination of agnosticism and relativism.

Let us pray that all human beings may completely fulfil the religious vocation they bear engraved in their being. May Mary help us to recognize in the face of the Child of Bethlehem, conceived in her virginal womb, the divine Redeemer who came into the world to reveal to us the authentic face of God.


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

Saint Peter’s Square, Second Sunday of Advent, 10 December 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This morning I had the joy of dedicating a new parish church, which is named Our Lady Star of Evangelization, in the North Torrino district of Rome. It is an event which, although in itself concerns that district, acquires a symbolic significance within the liturgical season of Advent, while we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Birth.

In these days the liturgy constantly reminds us that “God comes” to visit his people, to dwell in the midst of men and women and to form with them a communion of love and life: a family.

John’s Gospel expresses the mystery of the Incarnation in this way: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”; literally: “pitched his tent among us” (Jn 1: 14). Does not perhaps the building of a church among the homes of a town or a city district evoke this great gift and mystery?

The church building is a concrete sign of the Church community, formed from the “living stones” who are the believers, an image very dear to the Apostles. St Peter (see I Pt 2: 4-5) and St Paul (see Eph 2: 20-22) emphasize how the “cornerstone” of this spiritual temple is Christ and that, united to him and well compact, we are also called to participate in the building of this living temple.

If God therefore takes the initiative to come and dwell among men and it is always he who is the principal author of this project, then it is true that he also does not want to accomplish it without our active collaboration.

Thus, to prepare oneself for Christmas means to be committed to building the “dwelling of God with men”. No one is excluded; everyone can and must contribute in order to make this house of communion more spacious and beautiful.

At the end of time, it will be completed and it will be the “heavenly Jerusalem”: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth”, one reads in the book of Revelation, “...I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.... Behold, the dwelling of God is with men” (Rv 21: 1-3).

Advent invites us to cast a glance towards the “heavenly Jerusalem”, which is the goal of our earthly pilgrimage. At the same time, it exhorts us to commit ourselves to prayer, conversion and good works, to welcome Jesus in our life, to build together with him this spiritual edifice by which each one of us - our families and our communities - is a precious stone.

Among all the stones that form the heavenly Jerusalem, certainly the most resplendent and precious, because she is the closest of all to Christ the cornerstone, is Mary Most Holy. Through her intercession, we pray so that this Advent may be for the entire Church a time of spiritual edification and therefore hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom.


PASTORAL VISIT TO OUR LADY
STAR OF EVANGELIZATION PARISH OF ROME

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Second Sunday of Advent, 10 December 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters of the

Parish of Our Lady Star of Evangelization,

I am pleased to be with you for the dedication of this beautiful new parish church: the first that I have dedicated to the Lord since I took up office as Bishop of Rome. The solemn liturgy for the dedication of a church is a moment of intense and common spiritual joy for all God’s people who live in the area:  I wholeheartedly join in your joy today.

I greet with affection the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Camillo Ruini, Bishop Paolino Schiavon, Auxiliary Bishop of the Southern Sector, and Auxiliary Bishop Ernesto Mandara, Secretary of the Roman Commission for the Preservation of Faith and for the Provision of New Churches in Rome. I extend my deep gratitude to them and to all who have contributed in various capacities to making this new parish centre a reality.

This church is being inaugurated during the Season of Advent, which the Diocese of Rome for the past 16 years has dedicated to increasing awareness and collecting funds in order to build new churches on the city’s outskirts. It comes in addition to more than 50 parish complexes that have already been built in recent years, thanks to the financial efforts of the Vicariate, the contributions of numerous faithful and the attention of the civil Authorities.

I ask all the faithful and citizens of good will to persevere generously in this task so that neighbourhoods that are still without a church may have their parish centre as soon as possible.

Especially in our broadly secularized social context, the parish is a beacon that radiates the light of the faith and thus responds to the deepest and truest desires of the human heart, giving meaning and hope to the lives of individuals and families.

I greet your parish priest, the priests who work with him, the members of the Parish Pastoral Council and the other lay people involved in the various pastoral activities. I greet each one of you with affection. Your community is lively and young!

It is young because it was founded in 1989, and especially because of the effective beginning of its activities. It is young because in this North Torrino district the majority of families are young, so children and young people abound.

Thus, the laborious but fascinating task of educating children in the life and joy of faith is incumbent on your community. I am confident that together, in a spirit of sincere communion, you will be involved in preparation for the sacraments of Christian initiation and will help your children, who from now on will find here welcoming premises and adequate structures to grow in love and in fidelity to the Lord.

Dear brothers and sisters, we have dedicated a church - a building in which God and man desire to meet: a house that unites us, in which we are attracted to God, and being with God unites us with one another.

The three Readings of this solemn liturgy are intended to show us under very different aspects the meaning of a sacred building as a house of God and a house of men and women.

We have before us, in these three Readings that we have heard, three important themes:  the Word of God, which gathers people together, in the First Reading; the city of God, which in the Second Reading appears at the same time as a bride; and lastly, the profession of Jesus Christ as the Son of God Incarnate, expressed first of all by Peter, who thus founded the living Church which is manifest in the physical building of every church. Let us now listen more attentively to what the three Readings tell us.

First of all, there is the account of the rebuilding of the People of Israel, of the Holy City Jerusalem and of the temple subsequent to their return from the Exile. After the great optimism of the homecoming, the people - on arrival - found themselves facing a wasteland. How were they to rebuild it?

The external rebuilding, so necessary, could not proceed unless the people were first rebuilt as a people - unless a common criterion of justice was developed that would unite them all and regulate the life and activity of each one.

The people who had returned needed, so to speak, a “constitution”, a fundamental law for their life. And they knew that this constitution, if it was to be just and lasting, if it was to lead definitively to justice, could not be the result of their own autonomous intention.

True justice cannot be invented by man:  rather, it has to be discovered. In other words, it must come from God, who is justice. The Word of God, therefore, rebuilds the city.

What the Reading tells us is a reminder of the Sinai event. It brings to life the event of Sinai: the holy Word of God, which shows men and women the way of justice, is solemnly read and explained. Thus, it becomes present as a force from within which builds the country anew. This happens on New Year’s Day. God’s Word ushers in a new year, it ushers in a period of history.

The Word of God is always a renewing force which gives meaning and order to our time. At the end of the Reading is joy:  people are invited to the solemn banquet; they are urged to make a gift to those who have nothing and thereby to unite everyone in the joyful communion that is based on the Word of God.

This Reading ends in these beautiful words: the joy of the Lord is our strength. I believe that it is not difficult to see that these words of the Old Testament are really true for us today.

The church building exists so that God’s Word may be listened to, explained and understood by us; it exists so that God’s Word may be active among us as a force that creates justice and love. It exists in particular so that in it the celebration in which God wants humanity to participate may begin, not only at the end of time but already today. It exists so that the knowledge of justice and goodness may be awakened within us, and there is no other source for knowing and strengthening this knowledge of justice and goodness other than the Word of God. It exists so that we may learn to live the joy of the Lord who is our strength.

Let us pray to the Lord to gladden us with his Word; to gladden us with faith, so that this joy may renew us and the world!

Thus, may the reading of the Word of God, the renewal of the revelation of Sinai after the Exile, serve then for communion with God and among men and women. This communion is expressed in the rebuilding of the temple, the city and its walls.

The Word of God and the rebuilding of the city in the Book of Nehemiah are closely connected:  on the one hand, without the Word of God there is neither city nor community; on the other, the Word of God does not remain only a discourse but leads to constructing, it is a Word that builds.

The following texts from the Book of Nehemiah on the construction of city walls seem at first reading to be very practical and even prosaic in their details. However, they constitute a truly spiritual and theological theme.

A prophetic word of that age states that God himself built a wall of fire to encircle Jerusalem (see Zec 2: 8ff.). God himself is the city’s living defence, and not only in that time but always. Thus, the Old Testament account introduces us into the vision of the Apocalypse, which we heard as the Second Reading.

I would like to stress two aspects of this vision. The city is the bride. It is not merely a building of stone. All that is said about the city in grandiose images refers to something alive:  to the Church of living stones, where even now the future city is being formed.

It refers to the new people who, in the breaking of the bread, become one body with Christ (see I Cor 10: 16ff.).

Just as in their love man and woman become “one flesh”, so Christ and humanity gathered in the Church become through Christ’s love “one spirit” (see I Cor 6: 17; Eph 5: 29ff.). Paul calls Christ the new, the last Adam:  definitive man. And he calls him “a life-giving spirit” (I Cor 15: 45). With him, we become one; with him, the Church becomes a life-giving spirit. The holy City, where there is no longer a temple because it is inhabited by God, is the image of this community that is formed from Christ.

The other aspect that I wanted to mention are the 12 foundations of the city, above which are the names of the Twelve Apostles. The foundations of the city are not built of material stones but of living beings - they are the Apostles, with the witness of their faith. The Apostles remain the pillars that support the new city, the Church, through the ministry of Apostolic Succession:  through the Bishops.

The candles we light on the walls of the church in the places where anointings will take place are reminiscent precisely of the Apostles: their faith is the true light that illumines the Church and at the same time, the foundation that supports the Church. The Apostles’ faith is not something antiquated. Since it is a truth, it is the foundation on which we stand, the light by which we see.

We come to the Gospel. How often have we heard it! Peter’s profession of faith is the steadfast foundation of the Church. With Peter, let us say to Jesus: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God”. The Word of God is not only a word. In Jesus Christ it is present in our midst as a Person.

This is the deepest purpose of this sacred building’s existence: the church exists so that in it we may encounter Christ, Son of the living God. God has a Face. God has a Name. In Christ, God was made flesh and gave himself to us in the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist.

The Word is flesh. It is given to us under the appearances of bread and thus truly becomes the Bread on which we live. We live on Truth. This Truth is a Person:  he speaks to us and we speak to him. The Church is the place of our encounter with the Son of the living God and thus becomes the place for the encounter among ourselves. This is the joy that God gives us:  that he made himself one of us, that we can touch him and that he dwells among us. The joy of God is our strength.

Thus, the Gospel finally introduces us into the period in which we live today. It leads us towards Mary, whom we honour as the Star of Evangelization.

At a crucial time in history, Mary offered herself, her body and soul, to God as a dwelling place. In her and from her the Son of God took flesh. Through her the Word was made flesh (see Jn 1: 14).

Thus, it is Mary who tells us what Advent is: going forth to meet the Lord who comes to meet us; waiting for him, listening to him, looking at him.

Mary tells us why church buildings exist:  they exist so that room may be made within us for the Word of God; so that within us and through us the Word may also be made flesh today.

Thus, we greet her as the Star of Evangelization: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us so that we may live the Gospel. Help us not to hide the light of the Gospel under the bushel of our meagre faith. Help us by virtue of the Gospel to be the light of the world, so that men and women may see goodness and glorify the Father who is in Heaven (see Mt 5: 14ff.). Amen!


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Second Sunday of Advent, 9 December 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Yesterday, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the liturgy invited us to turn our gaze to Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, Star of Hope for every person. Today, the Second Sunday of Advent, it presents to us the austere figure of the Precursor, whom the Evangelist Matthew introduces as follows: “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand’“ (Mt 3: 1-2). His mission was to prepare and clear the way for the Lord, calling the people of Israel to repent of their sins and to correct every injustice. John the Baptist, with demanding words, announced the imminent judgement: “Every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3: 10). Above all, John put people on guard against the hypocrisy of those who felt safe merely because they belonged to the Chosen People: in God’s eyes, he said, no one has reason to boast but must bear “fruit that befits repentance”.

While the Advent journey continues, while we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Christ, John the Baptist’s appeal for conversion rings out in our communities. It is a pressing invitation to open our hearts to receive the Son of God, who comes among us to make manifest the divine judgement. The Father, writes John the Evangelist, judges no one but has given all judgement to the Son because he is the Son of Man (see Jn 5: 22, 27). And it is today, in the present, that our future destiny is being played out. It is our actual conduct in this life that decides our eternal fate. At the end of our days on earth, at the moment of death, we will be evaluated on the basis of our likeness - or lack of it - to the Child who is about to be born in the poor grotto of Bethlehem, because he is the criterion of the measure that God has given to humanity. The Heavenly Father, who expressed his merciful love to us through the birth of his Only-Begotten Son, calls us to follow in his footsteps, making our existence, as he did, a gift of love. And the fruit of love is that fruit which “befits repentance”, to which John the Baptist refers while he addresses cutting words to the Pharisees and Sadduccees among the crowds who had come for Baptism.

Through the Gospel, John the Baptist continues to speak down the centuries to every generation. His clear, harsh words are particularly salutary for us, men and women of our time, in which the way of living and perceiving Christmas unfortunately all too often suffers the effects of a materialistic mindset. The “voice” of the great prophet asks us to prepare the way of the Lord, who comes in the external and internal wildernesses of today, thirsting for the living water that is Christ. May the Virgin Mary guide us to true conversion of heart, so that we may make the necessary choices to harmonize our mentalities with the Gospel.


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Second Sunday of Advent, 7 December 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

For a week we have been experiencing the liturgical Season of Advent: a season of openness to the future of God, a time of preparation for holy Christmas when he, the Lord, who is the absolute innovation, came to dwell among this fallen humanity to renew it from within. A message full of hope resounds in the liturgy of Advent, inviting us to raise our gaze to the ultimate horizon but at the same time to recognize the signs of the God-with-us in the present. On this Second Sunday of Advent the Word of God acquires the moving tones of the so-called “Second Isaiah”, who announced to the Israelites, tried by decades of bitter exile in Babylon, liberation at last: “Comfort, comfort my people”, the Prophet says in God’s name. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended” (Is 40: 1-2). This is what the Lord wishes to do in Advent: to speak to the heart of his people and through it to the whole of humanity, to proclaim salvation. Today too the Church raises her voice: “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Is 40: 3). For the peoples worn out by poverty and hunger, for the hosts of refugees and for all who are suffering grave and systematic violations of their rights, the Church stations herself as a sentinel on the lofty mountain of faith and proclaims: “Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God comes with might” (Is 40: 10).

This prophetic announcement is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who with his preaching and, later, with his death and Resurrection, brought the ancient promises to fulfilment, revealing an even deeper and more universal perspective. He inaugurated an exodus that was no longer solely earthly, in history, hence temporary, but rather radical and definitive: the transition from the kingdom of evil to the Kingdom of God, from the dominion of sin and death to that of love and life. Therefore, human hope goes beyond the legitimate expectations of social and political liberation because what Jesus began is a new humanity that comes “from God” but, at the same, time germinates on our earth, to the extent that it lets itself be fertilized by the Lord’s Spirit. Thus it is a question of fully entering the logic of faith: believing in God, in his plan of salvation, and at the same time, striving to build his Kingdom. Justice and peace are in fact gifts of God, but require men and women to be the “good ground” ready to receive the good seed of his Word.

The first fruits of this new humanity is Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary. She, the Virgin Mother, is the “way” that God prepared for himself in order to come into the world. With all her humility, Mary walks at the head of the new Israel in its exodus from all exile, from all oppression, from all moral and material slavery, toward the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pt 3: 13). Let us entrust to her maternal intercession the expectation of peace and salvation of the people of our time.


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Second Sunday of Advent, 6 December 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Second Sunday of Advent the Liturgy presents to us the Gospel passage in which St Luke, prepares the scene, so to speak, on which Jesus is about to enter and begin his public ministry (see Lk 3: 1-6). The Evangelist focuses the spotlight on to John the Baptist, who was the Precursor of the Messiah, and with great precision outlines the space-time coordinates of his preaching. Luke writes “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came upon John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Lk 3: 1-2). Two things attract our attention. The first is the abundance of references to all the political and religious authorities of Palestine in A.D. 27-28. The Evangelist evidently wanted to warn those who read or hear about it that the Gospel is not a legend but the account of a true story, that Jesus of Nazareth is a historical figure who fits into that precise context. The second noteworthy element is that after this ample historical introduction, the subject becomes “the word of God”, presented as a power that comes down from Heaven and settles upon John the Baptist.

Tomorrow will be the liturgical Memorial of St Ambrose, the great Bishop of Milan. I take from him a comment on this Gospel text: “The Son of God”, he writes, “before gathering the Church together, acts first of all in his humble servant. Thus St Luke rightly says that the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness, because the Church was not born from people, but from the Word” (Espos. on St Luke’s Gospel 2, 67). Here then is the meaning: the Word of God is the subject that moves history, inspires the prophets, prepares the way for the Lord and convokes the Church. Jesus himself is the divine Word who was made flesh in Mary’s virginal womb: in him God was fully revealed, he told us, and gave us his all, offering to us the precious gifts of his truth and mercy. St Ambrose then continues in his commentary: “Thus the Word came down so that the earth, which was previously a desert, might produce its fruit for us” (ibid.).

Dear friends, the most beautiful flower that blossomed from the word of God is the Virgin Mary. She is the first-fruit of the Church, God’s garden on this earth. However, while Mary is Immaculate we shall celebrate her as such the day after tomorrow the Church is continually in need of purification, because sin lays snares for all her members. In the Church a conflict is always present between the desert and the garden, between sin that renders the ground arid and grace that waters it so that it may produce abundant fruits of holiness. Therefore let us pray to the Mother of the Lord that she may help us, in this Season of Advent, to “rectify” our lives, letting ourselves be guided by the word of God.


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Second Sunday of Advent, 5 December 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Gospel of this Second Sunday of Advent (Mt 3:1-12), presents to us the figure of St John the Baptist, who, a famous prophecy of Isaiah says (see 40:3), withdrew to the desert of Judaea and, with his preaching, called the people to convert so as to be ready for the coming of the Messiah, now at hand.

St Gregory the Great commented that John the Baptist “preaches upright faith and good works… so that the force of grace may penetrate, the light of the truth shine out, the paths to God be straightened and honest thoughts be born in the mind after hearing the word that guides us to goodness” (Hom. in Evangelia, XX, 3, CCL 141, 155).

The Precursor of Jesus, situated between the Old Covenant and the New, is like a star that heralds the rising of the Sun, of Christ, the One, that is, upon whom — according to another of Isaiah’s prophecies — “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest... the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Is 11:2).

In the Season of Advent we too are called to listen to God’s voice, that cries out in the desert of the world through the Sacred Scriptures, especially when they are preached with the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, faith grows all the stronger the more it allows itself to be illumined by the divine word, by “whatever”, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “was written in former days [and] written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4).

The model of listening is the Virgin Mary: “As we contemplate in the Mother of God a life totally shaped by the word, we realize that we too are called to enter into the mystery of faith, whereby Christ comes to dwell in our lives. Every Christian believer, St Ambrose reminds us, in some way interiorly conceives and gives birth to the word of God” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, no. 28).

Dear friends, “Our salvation rests on a coming”, as Romano Guardini wrote (La santa notte. Dall’Avvento all’Epifania, Brescia 1994, p. 13). “The Saviour came from God’s freedom…. Thus the decision of faith consists... in welcoming the One who draws near” (ibid., p. 14).

“The Redeemer”, he added, “comes to every human being: in his joy and his anguish, in his clear knowledge, in his perplexities and temptations, in all that constitutes his nature and his life” (ibid., p. 15).

Let us ask the Virgin Mary, in whose womb the Son of the Most High dwelled and whom we shall be celebrating next Wednesday, 8 December, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, to sustain us on this spiritual journey to welcome with faith and with love the coming of the Saviour.


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 4 December 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday marks the second stage of the Season of Advent. This period of the liturgical year brings into the limelight the two figures who played a preeminent role in the preparation for the historic coming of the Lord Jesus: the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist. Today’s text from Mark’s Gospel focuses on the latter. Indeed, it describes the personality and mission of the Precursor of Christ (see Mk 1:2-8). Starting with his external appearance, John is presented as a very ascetic figure: he was clothed in camel-skin and his food was locusts and wild honey that he found in the Judaean desert (see Mk 1:6).

Jesus himself once compared him to the people “in kings’ houses” who are “clothed in soft raiment” (Mt 11:8). John the Baptist’s style must remind all Christians to opt for a lifestyle of moderation, especially in preparation for the celebration of the Christmas festivity, in which the Lord, as St Paul would say, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).

With regard to John’s mission, it was an extraordinary appeal to conversion: his baptism “is connected with an ardent call to a new way of thinking and acting, but above all with the proclamation of God’s judgment” (Jesus of Nazareth, I, p. 14; English translation, Doubleday, New York, 2007) and by the imminent appearance of the Messiah, described as “he who is mightier than I”, who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1:7, 8).

John’s appeal therefore goes further and deeper than a lifestyle of moderation: it calls for inner conversion, based on the individual’s recognition and confession of his or her sin. While we are preparing for Christmas, it is important that we reenter ourselves and make a sincere examination of our life. Let us permit ourselves to be illuminated by a ray of light that shines from Bethlehem, the light of the One who is “the Mightiest” who made himself lowly, “the Strongest” who made himself weak.

All four Evangelists describe John the Baptist’s preaching with reference to a passage from the Prophet Isaiah: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Is 40:3). Mark also inserted a citation from another prophet, Malachi, who said: “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way” (Mk 1:2; see Mal 3:1).

These references to Old Testament Scriptures “envisage a saving intervention of God, who emerges from his hiddenness to judge and to save; it is for this God that the door is to be opened and the way made ready” (Jesus of Nazareth, I, op. cit., p. 15).

Let us entrust to Mary, the Virgin of expectation, our journey towards the Lord who comes, as we continue on our Advent itinerary in order to prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of the Emmanuel, God-with-us.


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

Saint Peter’s Square, Second Sunday of Advent, 9 December 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the Season of Advent the liturgy highlights in a special way two figures who prepare for the coming of the Messiah: the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. Today St Luke presents the latter to us and does so with characteristics that differ from those of the other Evangelists. “All four Gospels place the figure of John the Baptist at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and they reveal him as the one who prepared the way for Jesus. St Luke presents the connection between the two figures and their respective missions at an earlier stage.... Even in conception and birth, Jesus and John are linked together” (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p. 14).

This setting helps us to realize that John, as the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, both from priestly families, is not only the last of the prophets but also represents the entire priesthood of the Old Covenant and thus prepares people for the spiritual worship of the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus (see ibid., pp. 18-19). In addition, Luke discredits all the mythical interpretations that are often made of the Gospels, by putting the Baptist’s life in its historical context and by writing: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor... in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas” (Lk 3:1-2). The great event, the birth of Christ, which his contemporaries did not even notice, fits into this historical framework. For God the great figures of history serve as a frame for the lowly!

John the Baptist is described as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight” (Lk 3:4). The voice proclaims the word, but in this case the Word of God comes first, since the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness (see Lk 3:2). He therefore plays an important role but always in terms of Christ. St Augustine comments: “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning (see Jn 1:1). John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever. Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart” (In ev. Johannis tractatus 293, 3: pl 38, 1328).

Today it is up to us to listen to that voice so as to make room for Jesus, the Word who saves us, and to welcome him into our hearts. Let us prepare ourselves in this Season of Advent to see, with the eyes of faith in the humble Grotto of Bethlehem, God’s salvation (see Lk 3:6). In the consumer society in which we are tempted to seek joy in things, the Baptist teaches us to live in an essential manner, so that Christmas may be lived not only as an external feast, but as the feast of the Son of God who came to bring men and women peace, life and true joy.

Let us entrust our journey to encounter the Lord who comes, to the motherly intercession of Mary, the Virgin of Advent, in order to be ready to receive, in our heart and in our whole life, the Emmanuel, God-with-us. 



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