LEXEGETE ™ / Year C
Second Sunday of Advent | December 6, 2009
Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9
Luke 1:68-79 (78)
Prayer of the Day
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming give to all the people of the world knowledge of your salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Alleluia. Prepare the way | of the Lord.
All flesh shall see the salva- | tion of God. Alleluia. (Luke 3:4, 6)
1. CONTEXT: Luke 3:1-6
The 2nd and 3rd Sundays of Advent feature John the Baptist as the immediate forerunner of Jesus. The gospel reading comes just after the narrative of Jesus' childhood and Luke's statement that Jesus grew in wisdom, stature and grace (2:56), and it resumes the story of John, who grew strong in spirit (the Spirit??) down to the time when he became a public figure in Israel (1:80). Chapters 1-2 are sacred history, and John stands at the turn of the ages.
The formal synchronism (3:1 f. ) integrates this sacred history into world history. It is as dramatic as the passage in Thucydides (ii.2) which dated the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War and was the model for such synchronisms in Hellenistic histories. (No single era was universally recognized). John bursts, so to speak, into the world scene with the announcement of a baptism of repentance which the evangelists regard as fulfilling a basic message of Second Isaiah.
Luke quotes Isaiah 40:3-5 from the LXX more fully than do Matthew and Mark, though vs. 6 includes only part of Isaiah 40:5. This is part of the passage that begins, "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God," and it proclaims a highway for the return of the exiles from Babylon. The Essenes of Qumran understood the text to read "prepare the way of the Lord in the desert" (MANUAL OF DISCIPLINE, 8:13-16) and as referring to the life work of their community. Luke's gospel is, among other things, a story of the "way of the Lord," as Jesus and his disciples move toward Jerusalem, and in Acts the Christian movement is "the Way."
John's preaching is the immediate background of Jesus' ministry,
and the liturgy places it at this point because the Baptist's message is part of the preparation for the coming of the Lord. John is the climax of the old order and the herald of the new.
There are historical problems about the movement he inaugurated and which continued independently for some time (see, e.g., John 3:22-30; Acts 19:1-6), but they are not relevant here.
1a. TEXT: Luke 3:1-6
1 - Ἐν ἔτει δὲ πεντεκαιδεκάτῳ τῆς ἡγεμονίας Τιβερίου Καίσαρος,
ἡγεμονεύοντος Ποντίου Πιλάτου τῆς Ἰουδαίας, καὶ τετρααρχοῦντος τῆς Γαλιλαίας Ἡρῴδου, Φιλίππου δὲ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ τετρααρχοῦντος τῆς Ἰτουραίας καὶ Τραχωνίτιδος χώρας, καὶ Λυσανίου τῆς Ἀβιληνῆς τετρααρχοῦντος,
2 - ἐπὶ ἀρχιερέως Αννα καὶ Καϊάφα, ἐγένετο ῥῆμα θεοῦ ἐπὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν Ζαχαρίου υἱὸν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ.
3 - καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς πᾶσαν [τὴν] περίχωρον τοῦ Ἰορδάνου κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν,
4 - ὡς γέγραπται ἐν βίβλῳ λόγων Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου, Φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ.
5 - πᾶσα φάραγξ πληρωθήσεται καὶ πᾶν ὄρος καὶ βουνὸς ταπεινωθήσεται, καὶ ἔσται τὰ σκολιὰ εἰς εὐθείαν καὶ αἱ τραχεῖαι εἰς ὁδοὺς λείας:
6 - καὶ ὄψεται πᾶσα σὰρξ τὸ σωτήριον τοῦ θεοῦ.
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;
The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
3:1 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,
2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, 
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
 3:4 Or: crying, Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord
Lk 3.1 - The fifteenth year of Tiberius can be reckoned from his accession [thus A.C. 28-9] or from his association in the principiate with Augustus [26-7]. Pontius Pilate was prefect of Judaea, 26-36. Herod Antipas became tetrarch ("ruler of one fourth' of his father's kingdom) in 4 B.C. Aretas, king of Nabataean Arabia, made war on him in 36 because he had divorced Aretas' daughter in order to marry Herodias. Antipas was banished to Lyons in France in 39. Philip ruled Ituraea, northeast of Galilee, and Trachonitis, south of Damascus, from 4 B.C. to A.D. 33 or 34. It was he who rebuilt Paneas (Caesarea Philippi). The exact identity of this Lysanias and his dates are not quite certain; Abilene was a mountainous region west of Damascus.
Lk. 3:2 - Annas ceased to be high priest in A.D> 15 but bore the title as an honorific and he continued to be influential. Caiaphas was the high priest in Jesus' time (18-36 or 36). There is a nice contrast here between John and the high priests whose reputation was bad. We do not know the source of Luke's chronology, and there are uncertainties about it, especially in regard to Quirinius (2:2) and the vague statement that Jesus was "about 30 years old" (3:27), yet all the evidence tends to place Jesus' ministry about A.D. 28-30. The point is that Luke regards his story as firmly fixed in time.
Lk. 3:3 - baptisma metanoias eis aphesin hamartion - evidently from Mark 1:3, a baptism that expresses and accompanies repentance...The latter Greek greek word denotes a complete change of mind, but it represents the Hebrew root SHUB, to turn (completely away from sin and in the direction of God's will)....Josephus (ANTIQUITIES xviii. 5.2) explains that the baptism was for purification of the body, the soul having been previously purified by righteousness. This is Hellenistic idea but it fits with Jewish concepts of purification. But see also Ezekiel 36:25: Isaiah 1:16-18.
Lk.3:5 - The picture is that of a superhighway from Babylon to Judah, but the language of course is poetic. Luke might understand the valleys and hills, especially the crooked and straight, as metaphors of a changed life.
Lk. 3:6 - soterion tou theou - Luke is especially fond of "salvation" and related words; Jesus is the SOTER, savior (2:11: Acts 5:31; 13:23), as God is in the Old Testament. The word originally suggested rescue from danger, sickness,etc. and is common in secular Greek also. In the New Testament these words have transcendent associations.
3. STRATEGY: Luke 3:1-6
Perhaps a few congregations would be interested in a discussion of the relation of sacred history to secular history, which are two ways of looking at events. The gospel story is not located in Shangri-La!
It may be worthwhile, at least in passing, to point out that these things were "not done in a corner" (Acts 26:26). Palestine was strategic then, as it is today, and the imperial authorities were interested in what happened there, though they paid little attention to John and Jesus.
Luke's chronology is partly reponsible for the calculation of the Christian era by Dionysius Exiguus, monk and canon lawyer of the 6th century. He was inaccurate because the era begins four years after Herod's death. But from a Christian perspective, the concept itself is correct; since then everything has been different.
Christians regarded this new state of affairs as the fulfilment of prophecy. The homilist may reflect that while prophecies "come true" it is always in an unexpected way; better, we believe, than an ancient prophet could have imagined.
The theme of the forerunner is a fertile one. Someone prepares the way, and because of this the Coming One is better recognized and understood.
It is true of great historical figures, and of ourselves as well, that we depend on those who have gone before us, and that we in turn prepare for the life and work of someone else. The gospels present Jesus as affirming
the validity of John's ministry (Luke 7:24-28: 20:1-8) but they give different examples of John's attitude to Jesus "Are the one who is to come or are we to look for another?" (7:20), but in John 3:22-30 the Baptist is only the "friend of the bridegroom."
The baptism of repentance is another theme. Repentance is also a precondition of Christian baptism. As in the case of John's rite, it also creates a renewed community which prepares for God's Reign.
Exegete - Sherman E. Johnson, PhD, STD
4. REFERENCES: Luke 3:1-6
Danker, F.W. LUKE: Proclamation Commentaries, 2nd Edition. Ed., G.
Krodel. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987.
Johnson, Sherman E. THE YEAR OF THE LORD'S FAVOR. New York:
5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: Luke 3:1-6
The following hymns fit Advent 2 and the day's pericopes:
COMFORT, COMFORT NOW MY PEOPLE (LBW 29, HB 67)
HARK! A THRILLING VOICE IS SOUNDING (LBW 37, HB 590
THERE'S A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS CRYING (HB 75)
Specific hymns on John the Baptist may be apt for either Advent 2 or Advent 3, especially if the focus will be on his role as forerunner:
ON JORDAN'S BANKS THE BAPTIST'S CRY (LBW 36, HB 76)
THE GREAT FORERUNNER OF THE MORN (HB 271, 272)
Again, Hymns on the Kingdom may be appropriate throughout the Advent Season (see Hymn Suggestions for Advent 1).