Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Fourth Sunday of Advent--22 December AD 2013

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee
… under the high priests Annas and Caiphas: the word of the Lord came to John the son of Zachary in the desert.”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass in Latin and English
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Dominica Quarta Adventus

    In modern society we are accustomed to careful record keeping.  Official and even informal letters and documents always have a date, and some include the time. This was true even before the rise of the computer—birth and death certificates are good examples.  My tablet computer even wants to record the location where I was when I wrote something.  The calendar and the clock are everywhere, and they make their effects on most everything we write or record.

    But, this passion for precise dating did not exist in the ancient world into which Jesus Christ was born.  If they felt a date was important enough, many writers referred to some natural event that they expected everyone to know about.  Usually it was something catastrophic, so that everyone would remember it:

    And Noe lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years:[2]

     The words of Amos, who was among herdsmen of Thecua … two years before the earthquake.[3]

    Of course, even the ancient writers recognized that with time, people would no longer remember these events, or would confuse them with more recent floods and earthquakes or similar catastrophes.  When something particularly important the writer might refer to those in political power, on the assumption that future generations would possess records of the succession of rulers who ruled over them.

    In the Gospel passage we read today, it is clear that Saint Luke considered his report of John the Baptist to be particularly important, for he mentions not only the local rulers (Herod and Philip) and the rulers of the Temple (Annas and Caiphas), but even the hated Roman invaders, Pontius Pilate and his master in Rome, Tiberius Cæsar.  Certainly, future generations would be able to place this event in its proper time—dates or no dates.

    Saint Luke may also be trying to call attention to the fact that the coming of Christ fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy of Jacob about the coming of the Messias:

    The sceptre shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till he come that is to be sent, and he shall be the expectation of nations.[4]

    The three political rulers Saint Luke mentions were the sons of Herod the Great, who was descended from the non-Jewish tribe of the Edomites.  He and his sons had been put in power by the Romans because they could be trusted to look after Roman interests.  The “scepter” had been “taken away” and the Messias, “the expectation of nations” was finally on the scene.

    Both Matthew and Luke inform us that the arrival of the Messias also fulfilled the prophecy of Isaias:

 The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God.  Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,[5]

     Ancient kings had whole cities built in their own honor, and may well have had mountains moved and valleys filled in to make their vacation travel smoother, and we are talking about the “King of Kings” here, so the prophecy fits well enough.

     But many commentaries on this passage suggest that the “one crying in the desert” is addressed to us.  We are to prepare the way of the Lord into our souls.  The valleys of the spiritual life must be filled in:  our luke‑warmness, our laziness, our fear must all be filled in and covered over by elevating our hearts and minds to God.  The mountains of our pride, and greed, and lust, and dishonesty must be brought low with humility, and generosity, and continence, and reverence for the truth.  The roughness of our souls, anger, impatience, and desire for vengeance must be ground down with calm, and peace, and patience, and forgiveness.

     Yes, John the Baptist went before our Lord in the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiphas, preaching “penance for the forgiveness of sins.”  But, every bit as much, he still goes before the Lord, preaching penance to us, even in the reign of Cæsar Obama, and the high priesthood of Benedict and Francis.  We must resolve to “make straight the way of the Lord.”




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