Image by Gabriel Ballerini from Pixabay
Second Sunday of Advent
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Matthew 3:1-3: It was during those days that Yochanan the Immerser arrived in the desert of Y’hudah and began proclaiming the message, “Turn from your sins to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” This is the man Yesha‘yahu was talking about when he said, “The voice of someone crying out: ‘In the desert prepare the way of Adonai! Make straight paths for him!’” CJB
I want to use this translation for several reasons. First, I think it is important to remember that our English translations of the three underlined names above—John, Jordan, and Isaiah—are influenced by the German scholars of the 18th and 19th centuries who used the J in German to reproduce the sound of the Hebrew Ya. English and American scholars copied their work.
Also, note that the three words are transliterations of the sounds of the three Hebrew names. Around the world, John is Jan, Juan, Jon, Jean, Ivan, Giovanni, and others, all of which comes from the Hebrew Yochanan. In Hebrew, the name means ‘YHWH is gracious.’
The Immerser used above translates the Greek word Baptistes, from the word baptize. The word is unique to the New Testament and never found in any other Greek writing before that time. Baptistes is better rendered Baptizer than Baptist.
Why is the Jordan River, Y’hudah, important? Even a quick look at a map will remind us that there is one true river in the country. But more importantly, it was the river the Hebrews had to cross to enter the promised land after their forty years in the wilderness. It was the symbolic source of life.
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God. ESV This is the passage from Isaiah 40:3 quoted by John as recorded by Matthew.
Why is Adonai used in the CJB, and God is used in most English translations? The Hebrew word is YHWH—Yahweh—the most Holy name of God that can only be spoken by priests in the Temple. In all other cases, Adonai is spoken as a substitute. Messianic Jews who accept Yeshua as the Messiah generally follow the Jewish form, even substituting Adonai in writing, as here. We Gentile Christians don’t worry about such niceties.
Yochanan wore clothes of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. CJB This strange description is important because it identifies John with most prophets, with the belt linking him directly to Elijah. John’s lifestyle shows us a man who lived away from society, perhaps to keep himself free from the corrupting influences. He may have lived for a time with the Essenes at what we now call Qumran.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said: “Who warned you, you serpent’s brood, to escape from the wrath to come? Go and do something to show that your hearts are really changed. Phillips
This is the most important passage of the Matthew reading. The Greek word is exomologeo, easily translated as repent. But repent is so identified with, for lack of a better term, Bible-thumpers that most Americans ignore the word. What the Greek word means is that we must realize what we are doing is wrong in God’s eyes and choose to turn back to God. It is not enough to turn away from sin; we must turn to God. If I turn away from killing a person because that is a sin but instead call him all kinds of names, I have failed to turn to God.
We are in the Christmas season. We celebrate the birth of the Son of Man. But we also celebrate his willingness to fight our battles for us. He became a human with all human limitations. He became the first human since Adam/Eve to remain free from the taint of sin. He always kept his face turned to God in all ways and times. He died so that he could battle both Death and Satan. With them defeated, we can now enter the presence of God.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here and here.
Be righteous and do good.