During a bible study session, the group leader made a convincing suggestion of paraphrasing the Gospel Reading for the Second Sunday of Advent (Luke 3:1-6) to make it contemporary – not about gender or neutrality – but contemporary to today’s time and society. This is how we would read the Gospel: “In the fourth year of the presidency of Barack Obama, when John Kasich was governor of Ohio (or whoever is governor in your state), and Steve Beshear was governor of Kentucky and Mike Pence? was governor of Indiana (or whoever are governors in your tri-state region) when so-and-so was bishop (or priest or pastor of your congregation), the word of God came to…”
To whom is the word of God coming in our society today?
The New Testament makes it easy when it points to John the Baptist. In the Old Testament Reading from Malachi 3:1-4 or Isaiah 40:3, which is the context for both, the messenger is not identified. Todate, scholars are still debating who this messenger was. The fact that Malachi 4:5 identifies the messenger as Elijah does not make it any easier for today’s interpreter.
Isaiah 40:3 stirred a lot of interest in the early days of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls because, in the Manual of Discipline – 1QS – (Serekh Ha-Yahad in Hebrew), the Qumran community interpreted it as a reference to the Teacher of Righteousness, a figure who was persecuted by the Wicked Priest. Most Jewish biblical scholars interpret – quite correctly, in my view – the messenger as the whole Jewish community.
Today, the whole community of faith has the call to “prepare the way of the Lord…” In the context of the exile, this was a message of hope, a message about redemption, a message of comfort as Isaiah 40 begins: “Comfort (Thee), comfort my people, says your God”. Today’s community of faith is called upon to practice forgiveness and compassion, to bring hope to “those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death” as the Canticle for the Second Sunday of Advent implores.