As we read the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent we first come the name of Isaiah. Isaiah in Hebrew is largely an alternate spelling of Joshua, which in English translates as Jesus. The story for Mark begins with Jesus and it ends with Jesus. Quoting Isaiah, Mark says, “Prepare the way of the NAME, make straight his paths.”
How do we do that? That is the question for the Second Sunday of Advent. The rest of the passage describes John the Baptist. Hebrew is an interesting language. It’s alphabet, like all Semitic alphabets has two letters with no sound, “Aleph” and “Ayin,” which resembles our “Y.” It has two “S,” letters and three “K’s. It also has two “Ts.”
A Hebrew word for the world, meaning a verdant place, livable place is “Table,” with one “T”. Its word for baptism is “Table,” with another “T.” The idea behind baptism is not punishment but preparing us for “Table,” the verdant, literally spiced place. “Baptism” appears twelve times in Torah and Prophets to translate “Table.” In every case but one the clear reference is to the priest dipping sacrifices. 2 Kings 5:14 could mean dipping or immersion. The word appears one more time, Job 9:31 where it clearly refers to plunging into a ditch.
“John the Baptist, in most of the remaining Gospel reading for today is described to look like Elijah. The Gemara cites another verse and interprets it homiletically. It is stated: “The NAME showed me four craftsmen” (Zechariah 2:3). Who are these four craftsmen? Rav Ḥana bar Bizna said that Rabbi Shimon Ḥasida said: They are Messiah ben David, Messiah ben Yosef, Elijah, and the righteous High Priest, who will serve in the Messianic era.” Sukkah 52:b
Elijah will be the herald of the eschaton. Messiah ben Joseph will wage war against the evil forces and die in combat with the enemies of God and Israel. In the Sefer Zerubbabel and later writings, after his death a period of great calamities will befall Israel. God will resurrect the dead and usher in the Messianic Era of universal peace. Messiah ben David will reign as a Jewish king during the period when God will resurrect the dead.
Of the righteous High Priest, one Targum says, “And Melchisedech, the king of Jerusalem — he is Shem the Great — brought out bread and wine, for he was a priest ministering in the high priesthood before God Most High.
John the Baptist points to Jesus who is a Carpenter, whose Father is Joseph, who dies in battle, some sources say against Rome, and against Gog which is Hebrew for “Roof,” and the Temple is one big roof. Elijah also points to penance as Elijah is a Teshuvah which means penance.
Our first reading gives the answer of what we are baptized to. “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the NAME! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. The importance of the NAME shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the NAME has spoken.
As to what penance is penance to, we read Leviticus 14. This chapter is about the purification of lepers. In the Septuagint or Greek Bible, “Baptize” appears three times. The passage talks of dipping a living bird into the blood of a dead one. The dead one is dipped into running water. The original word, faithfully translated into Greek is “Living Water.” The Gospel of John will take this up when Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman.
We are baptized into life. The dead bird is sacrificed so we may live. Living is defined in this passage to. Living water is flowing water. It is water that shows the dynamics of what it means to be alive. St. John shows he agrees with this definition by also talking of living water. We get to this life by being what the Jewish people call “Tam.” This means perfection but in the sense of leading simple, humble lives where there are no people representing valleys, depressed, hungry, thirsty, and the like because all the mountains and hills, all the greedy people are made low. All the rough, vulgar, average people who are made rough by their pain will be made smooth. We will all be Tam, because God is ruler and all the rest of us are sheep. Are we up to the task of helping to build this world, or must God look for others?