12.06.2020 Second Sunday of Advent

The Visitation


Rembrandt

(1606-1669)


1640

Detroit Institute of Arts Museum


The Visitation tells the story of the meeting between Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, and her older cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist (Luke 1:36–42).


Rembrandt centers the narrative around the two cousins, bathed in a supernatural glow. From the elderly Zachariah, husband of Elizabeth, coming down the stairs with the help of a young boy, to Joseph climbing up the hill with his donkey, the figures are linked by a series of gestures that stress the intimacy and the emotions that bind the characters.


Animals play a significant part in this painting. The dog, while providing a touch of informality, symbolizes faithfulness. The peacock watching over her chicks, a symbol of undying protection and care, is also a symbol for Christ who longs to gather all peoples to himself.


This painting may relate to Rembrandt’s life. The face of Elizabeth is reminiscent of the artist’s mother, who died in 1640, just as his wife was about to give birth.


Lectio

Mark 1:1-8

1 “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


Meditatio

The Context

In the beginning of the Gospel of Mark Jesus is ready to start his public ministry immediately.


Non-Christian ancient biographies, as well as the Bible, contained descriptions of a personage’s family background and amazing stories that helped the reader understand the “uncommon” character of the heroes. All the other Gospel writers spoke of Jesus before his birth. However, Mark does not say anything about the thirty years Jesus spent in Nazareth[1].


This should not lead us to the conclusion that Mark’s omission is out of a lack of interest in the infancy of Jesus, rather Mark prefers to focus on the Baptism of Jesus at the hands of John the Baptist to avoid other details that will move away from the simplicity proper to his literary style.


Mark likes keeping to the essentials. It is enough to compare the first verses of his Gospel with the genealogy written by Saint Matthew, the detailed descriptions surrounding the birth of Jesus by Saint Luke, or the highly theological catechesis about the pre-existence of the Word by Saint John.


In the first sentence of his Gospel, Mark includes the essence and the very purpose of his narrative. He summarizes in just a few words the core of his message and what is going to unfold through the Gospel.


The Good News

Saint Mark does not write about Jesus for the sake of recording an ordered sequence of events in his life. He writes rather a faith account that he wants to pass on to future generations. This is faith in Jesus as the Son of God.


By calling his book a “Gospel”, Mark implies that his writing is in fact a proclamation of faith in the Risen Christ. For Mark, this Good News is at the very heart of discipleship[2] and directed to all peoples of all times[3].


The Good News is therefore both Jesus Christ Himself and the message He came to deliver.


The Precursor

Mark wants to show that the Gospel is in continuity with the Old Testament prophesies and, at the same time, he wants to show how Jesus brings something radically new in his wake.


The person of John the Baptist shows the elements that are in continuity with the Old Testament:

1. He is a Prophet in the line of previous Prophets[4].

2. He lives in the desert, the place of encounter of the People of Israel with Yahweh.

3. He is the expected Elijah sent by God “to prepare the way of the Lord”. And even

if John disclaims it[5], Jesus himself identifies him with this fiery Prophet.

On the other hand, we find elements of discontinuity with the Old Testament:

1. By identifying the Baptist with Elijah, Jesus distances himself from the

uncompromising message about judgement and punishment that is proper to

Elijah, and rather promotes the image of a forgiving and merciful God[6];

2. The desert was not the definitive meeting place of the Chosen People with God.

The Promise Land lay ahead. God did not take the People out of Egypt to make

them live and die in the desert. They had to move forward in pursuit of God’s

Promised Land. In the same way Jesus will abandon the desert to live among the

people. If John represented the promises, Jesus is their fulfilment.

3. John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to

inaugurate the New People of God, the Church, with a Baptism of Fire.


The Fulfilment

We have been looking in previous weeks at the signs that point to the end of time in the Apocalyptic literature. Surprisingly enough, we do not find here the spectacular manifestations that had announced the arrival of the new era in the Old Testament:

1. Instead of thunder, earthquakes, hunger and plague, we find a man dressed in a

camel skin and feeding on locusts in a desert.

2. In Nazareth an Angel announced a miraculous conception to a meek young Lady

who then gave birth to her Child in a stable.

3. The earth did not shake, but rejoiced;

4. The heavens did not fall in, but opened wide with the song of Angels;

5. Instead of widespread destruction, the Angels announce peace to all people of

good will[7].


The Overture

The introduction of the Gospel of Mark foreshadows its conclusion:

1. In the first verse, Jesus is called “Son of God”. The only other time Jesus will be

called with this attribute will be through the words of a pagan centurion who on

seeing Jesus dying on the cross exclaims: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark

15:39).

2. The message delivered by John the Baptist to “people from the whole Judean

countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” will be delivered to all the nations by

means of Jesus giving up his Spirit on the cross.



Oratio

Desert Song

(Hillsong Worship)

This is my prayer in the desert

And all that's within me feels dry

This is my prayer in the hunger in me

My God is a God who provides

And this is my prayer in the fire

In weakness or trial or pain

There is a faith proved

Of more worth than gold

So refine me Lord through the flames

And I will bring praise

I will bring praise

No weapon forged against me shall remain

I will rejoice

I will declare

God is my victory and He is here

And this is my prayer in the battle

And triumph is still on it's way

I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ

So firm on His promise I'll stand

All of my life

In every season

You are still God

I have a reason to sing

I have a reason to worship

This is my prayer in the harvest

When favor and providence flow

I know I'm filled to be emptied again

The seed I've received I will sow

Amen”


Contemplatio

“Advent is an opportunity to recognise the shortcomings in our lives, to smooth out the roughness of pride and to make room for Jesus who comes.

The valleys to be lifted up represent all the shortcomings of our behaviour before God, all our sins of omission. One shortcoming in our life could be the fact that we do not pray or that we pray little.

We are called to be more attentive, closer, to the needs of others.

Like John the Baptist, in this way we can open ways of hope in the desert of the barren hearts of many people.

The mountains and hills that must be made low are pride, arrogance, insolence. Where there is pride, where there is insolence, where there is arrogance, the Lord cannot enter. We must take on attitudes of meekness and humility, and thus prepare for the coming of our Saviour, he who is meek and humble of heart”

Pope Francis


Let us keep to the essentials. What is the core of our faith?


The Spirit awakens within us a passion that prompts us to act with mercy, benevolence and compassion. Can we name that passion?


Many wished to see what we see and did not see it[8]. What does it feel like knowing that we are living in the time of “fulfilment”?


Does this awaken within us a desire that others may “see” and “taste how good is the Lord”[9].


We praise the Lord for the Good News we have received.


[1] The Apostles preached about Jesus beginning with the ministry of John in the wilderness: Acts 1:22: “Beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” Acts 10:37: “That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced.” Acts 13:24: “Before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” [2] Mark 10:29: “Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news.” [3] Mark 13:9-11: “And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.” [4] Malachi 3:1: “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.” Malachi 4:5: “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” 2Kgs 1:8: “A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.” He said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.” Exodus 23:20: “I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” [5] John 1:21: “And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’” [6] Matthew 11:14“And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” [7] Luke 2:10: “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”. Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” [8] Matthew 13:17 [9] Psalm 34:8

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