A TIME OF PREPARATION

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1 Leader Guide 2 nd SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR B A TIME OF PREPARATION Leader Preparation Overview The word conversion comes from the Latin word convertere, meaning to turn around. When was the last time you were driving somewhere and got lost on the way to your destination? Maybe you were following the directions, but they led to the wrong place. Or maybe you thought you could figure out how to get to your destination on your own, only to realize you didn t quite know the way. We have all experienced needing to turn around, retrace our steps, and start over. This is the crux of the Christian life: being willing to convert, to turn around, the areas of our life that need to be more aligned with God s plan for our eternal happiness.

2 LEADER TIP: We ve provided Reflections for each reading on the following pages. Read these in advance; they ll give you additional insights for understanding and discussion. Reflections for the Second Sunday of Advent First Reading ~Isaiah 40:1 5, 9 11~ REFLECTION Isaiah The was Prophet one of Zecha the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. The depth and magnitude of his prophecies and visions continue to amaze and interest God s people. Isaiah s name in Hebrew literally means Yahweh is salvation, which summarizes the message of the prophet of God. Isaiah s prophetic ministry lasted for about forty years ( B.C.), during a time of great political turmoil in Israel. Isaiah s prophecy gave hope to an exiled Israel for hundreds of years of suffering, in which the Jews waited for their deliverance and restoration. In their waiting they looked for the voice in the wilderness (see Matthew 40:3) that would announce that the time of God s coming to deliver Israel had arrived. This voice is to herald good news (40:9), that is, the Gospel (thus Isaiah is often called the fifth Gospel) that the Lord God comes. Isaiah s revelation that God would restore his people and kingdom after the exile became the spark that enkindled Israel s longing and for a redeeming Messiah. The sign that the time for God s coming was imminent would be the voice in the wilderness, which we know was John the Baptist (Matthew 3). The restoration would be nothing less than the coming of the Lord God. Thus Isaiah declared the coming of Christ over seven 2

3 hundred years before he came. In the context of Israel s exile and hope, we can see why the message of the Apostles was called the gospel (literally good news ), for it was the good news of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. For us, Advent is the renewal of Israel s waiting for the good news that Christ will come! Responsorial Psalm ~Psalm 85:9 10, 11 12, 13 14~ Second Reading ~2 ~Zechariah Peter 3:8 14~ 9:9 10~ REFLECTION As The mentioned Prophet Zecha before, Advent is a time for reflecting both on Christ s coming in the Nativity and his coming at the end of time. St. Peter assures Christians that his coming isn t late, but rather that he waits for the repentance of sinners. We should not, he warns, begin to act as though we need not be on guard or grow lax in our vigilance because the day of the Lord will come like a thief. We may do well to read the whole of chapter 3 in which Peter prophesies the manner in which Jesus will return. God once destroyed the world by the water of the Flood in the time of Noah. After the New Covenant in Christ, the saving flood of Baptism has fulfilled the Old Testament image of the flood. The next manner of the world s purification is to be by fire. We are reminded of the fire of Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. We might speculate that the world, having already been baptized by the Flood, will be confirmed in spiritual adulthood and prepared for full membership in the Heavenly Church by the descent of fire. In point of fact, the world never lacks for scoffers... following their own passions (3:3) who doubt our Lord s return. In every age we are called to conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the Second Coming of the day of God (3:11 12). Yes, even trying to hasten the day! A genuine Christian doesn t fear the second coming, but rather eagerly anticipates the arrival of the Savior. 3

4 Gospel ~Mark ~Zechariah 1:1 8~ 9:9 10~ REFLECTION Unlike The Prophet the other Zecha Gospels, which begin with introductions or a genealogy, St. Mark immediately begins with the proclamation of John the Baptist. This proclamation perfectly fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah: Prepare the way of the Lord! This highlights how completely John the Baptist fulfills in himself all the expectations of ancient Israel. St. Augustine teaches that John s birth to elderly parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, represents the antiquity of Israel, while his leaping for joy in his mother s womb at the Visitation of Mary suggests the newness of his coming prophetic proclamation. In his appearance and actions John sums up the whole of the Old Testament: his clothing is the same as that of Elijah, and the hides he wears also suggest the skins that Adam and Eve wore after being cast out of the Garden. He calls Israel out into the desert for purification as did Moses, the mediator of the Old Law and, like Moses, he prepares the people to be led into the new Promised Land by the new Joshua (Yeshua = Jesus). His diet consists of locusts, which are symbolic of pestilence as one of the plagues of the Exodus and of the Apocalypse, and honey, which is the food of the Promised Land. Despite the dignity of St. John the Baptist at having received the vocation of being the last of the Prophets and the first of the saints (after Mary, who is the Queen of Saints), his most prominent virtue is humility. I am not fit to stoop and untie his sandal straps, he says. If we are to prepare ourselves and others for the coming of the great King, then we should turn our attention to St. John the Baptist, the first herald of Christ. 4

5 Scripture Study on the Sunday Readings STEP #1 Opening Prayer 2nd SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR B Welcome to our study of Opening the Word for the Second Sunday of Advent. Let s open our time together in prayer. Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. Psalm 130:1 4, 7 LEADER TIP: Depending on when your group meets and how much time you have, you may want to read through each of the readings in the Prayer Journal together before beginning lectio divina. 5

6 STEP #2 Introduction of the Theme Today s readings are about preparing our hearts to be free and pure for Christ as we await his coming by making straight a path for him. We all have aspects of our lives that we have made crooked by sin, neglect, or apathy. What areas of your life need to be made straight? Where have you realized you need to turn around, to convert, back to God s plan? (Many in the group may already have bad habits they are working to break, while others may have to think a bit harder on this one. For those struggling to pinpoint where they need to experience conversion, encourage them to do a daily examination of conscience each evening before bed. Journal the ways in which they served the Lord faithfully and the ways in which they came up short. For those wanting to go deeper than this, have them look into St. Ignatius s Daily Examen. Here is a simple version of the five steps: 1) Become aware of God s presence. 2) Review the day with gratitude. 3) Pay attention to your emotions. 4) Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. 5) Look toward tomorrow [ STEP #3 Lectio Divina SACRED READING OF SCRIPTURE Let us reflect on the call from both Isaiah and John the Baptist to prepare our hearts for the Lord by turning back to him. Think of the ways that you are journeying, like the Israelites, in the desert, seeking to change your life in order to meet Christ in the Promised Land. Play the video for Second Sunday of Advent. This will play for approximately four minutes. 6

7 DIGGING DEEPER A Change of Heart The Greek word for repentance is metanoia. It literally means a change of mind. It is used all throughout the New Testament in the imperative tense, inviting us to turn around. In Mark 1:15, Jesus tells us, Repent, and believe in the gospel. Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Constitution, Paenitemini, said, These words constitute, in a way, a compendium of the whole Christian life. If this is true, then repentance is absolutely essential to our lives as Christians. We must be willing to evaluate our lives, acknowledge where we have gone down the wrong path, and turn around. Our faith and encounters with Christ in the Liturgy and Scripture will naturally reveal the areas of our lives that need change. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). STEP #4 Lectio Divina MEDITATION Have participants turn to their Prayer Journal pages to find these questions. SMALL GROUP QUESTION #1 We all have things in our life we are proud of and ashamed of. In today s Second Reading, Peter explains how all things will be revealed at the end of time. This is a sobering idea. All things will be unveiled. If we realize that everything we did and said would be public knowledge at the end of time, how would we live our lives differently? How do you conduct yourself each day? What areas of your life do you live with devotion to Our Lord? What areas of your life need correcting? (This will be a poignant question for many in the group. If we realized that all of the gossip or harsh thoughts we harbor toward others would be revealed, we would likely think twice before perpetuating these habits. Many in the group will probably have a sense of embarrassment and then remorse for the ways in which they fall short. Encourage them to remember that not only will the sin and ugliness be revealed, but also the good deeds that we did that went unnoticed. It is important to live a life of devotion that includes both rooting out sin from our lives AND working to be Christ to those we meet in our words and actions.) 7

8 SMALL GROUP QUESTION #2 We read in the Papal Encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World, 14): Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ s sacrifice in the Mass. As members of the Church and Body of Christ, how are we answering this call to evangelize? In the video reflection, Jules explains how John the Baptist is a model for us because he is preparing his own heart and the hearts of others for Jesus. How do you follow his example in your day-to-day life? How can you better live out the evangelical charism of John the Baptist? (This may be the first time some of the people have heard this mission of the Church. Take some time to discuss how they can live this out and what it looks like practically. It can be so simple as a smile, really being present to someone when you ask how their day is going, being positive instead of complaining, or going so deep as inviting someone for dinner, inviting someone to join you for Mass, sharing your witness of the Lord s mercy in your life, and so on. Brainstorm with them how they can live this out in their workplace and homes.) 8

9 STEP #5 Lectio Divina PRAYER & RESOLUTION The readings this week continue to prepare our hearts more deeply to meet Christ, both in a few weeks at Christmas and when he comes again in glory. Let s take some time to unpack the words of Isaiah, Peter, and John the Baptist as they call us to turn back to Christ and make straight our ways so that we can meet him quickly and with a peaceful disposition. PRAYER Picture a desert barren, dry, and hot. It s not a place we would choose to spend a significant amount of time. So why does John the Baptist meet people in the desert? It is in the desert, in the place that we are most deprived of distraction and faced with our needs, that we are able to see that we need something more someone more. It is in the desert that we are most apt to open our hearts to God to repent. Reflect on the word repentance. What do you need to repent of in your own life? Where do you need to receive forgiveness in your life? Where do you need to grant forgiveness to another in your life? RESOLUTION We pray each Sunday in the Our Father: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Make a firm resolution to extend forgiveness this week to someone you need to reconcile with. Allow the healing power of forgiveness to make straight a pathway in your heart for the Lord. Use your Prayer Journal to write down your thoughts, reflections, and your resolutions. (Some people may know of someone they need to be reconciled with immediately. Others may need to spend some time in prayer. They may even need to forgive themselves for a sin or mistake they have made. Encourage them to seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Remind them of the freedom that comes with reconciliation and letting go of the weights of bitterness and regret we can carry in our hearts. Encourage them to look to John the Baptist as a model of humility. Forgiving ourselves or someone else takes humility as we recognize where we have failed, acknowledge it, and choose to learn from it and move forward.) 9

10 DIGGING DEEPER Following in John s Footsteps When we hear how John the Baptist was dressed ( in camel s hair, with a leather belt around his waist ), and what he ate ( locusts and wild honey ), we picture a lunatic wandering through the desert. In some ways, we may be tempted to dismiss him as the crazy man who proclaimed the way for Christ. However, all of these details would have reminded the people reading of the Old Testament. Wearing animal skins was the sign of a prophet, and John was preparing for Christ by living a life of fasting and repentance. One of the most interesting things we can learn from John, though, is his humility. Removing and carrying sandals was a menial task reserved for slaves serving their master. John regards himself as unworthy to perform even a slave s menial task for the Messiah (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible:New Testament, 65). He knew his unworthiness before God. Do we? How often do we approach the Eucharist distracted and nonchalantly? John felt himself unworthy even to approach Christ s feet, but how do we approach receiving the very Body and Blood of Christ each Sunday? STEP #6 Study Wrap-Up CLOSING PRAYER Starting with the person on your right: I d like each of us to share one takeaway from today s session. In other words, share something that touched your heart as a truth to live by or even something you didn t know before. Give everyone time to share, and then continue. As we all commit to deeper conversion this week, let us reflect on the words Jesus gave us in the Our Father. Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen. (Insert any personal needs that may have come to light this week.) 10

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