Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Saint Matthew 3:1-12
Isaiah and Advent – In this cycle of the Lectionary, Year A, the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures are exclusively from Isaiah. Indeed, in the readings for today, the Second Sunday in Advent, both the Epistle and the Gospel readings feature quotes from the first of the Isaiahs. Of all the prophets, this is the prophet most likely to be quoted by everyday people. His work was so appropriate to the time, and so attractive to early Christians, even to Jesus, who reads from his prophecies in the Synagogue at Nazareth. Like Jesus, Isaiah appears at a kairos, a crossroads, if you will, in time. Isaiah looked forward to a kingdom that would be marked by God’s presence with not only his chosen people, but with all the peoples of the world. His kingdom vision of deserts blooming, and wisdom and justice; of peace between races and species, this vision holds a kinship with the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced. Isaiah looked forward to a kingship that was full of justice and righteousness, one that was faithful to the God of Israel, and finally a kingdom of mercy to all. His messianic vision is fulfilled in the Christian mind in the ministry and work of Jesus. So these Advent readings root us in an ancient and yet future hope.
First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
|The Peaceable Kingdom, Edward Hicks|
Whoever David actually was, his history and his promise left indelible marks on the kingdom that he ruled. Isaiah is no stranger to this legacy, and in this reading imagines what ideal kingship (flowing from the tradition and story of David) would look like. His vision sees three strong themes, each of which Isaiah elaborates on. The king must have wisdom, resolution, and piety – not only trademarks, but visible and cultural signs of his rule. So integral is this vision of the ideal king, that Isaiah sees all of creation marked by its signs: wolves living with lambs, young children leading lions and calves. This is an ubiquitous vision of what Isaiah felt must be. In his thought, the Kingdom of Judah was to be a sign to all of the world about what might be possible, when governance is guided by God.
Breaking open Isaiah 11:1-10
1. Isaiah sees something new coming out of something old. What are your hopes that spring from parts of your life that you have given up?
2. What kind of knowledge and understanding – righteousness and mercy have you seen in your life?
3. Read the last lines of the Isaiah reading and then answer: what are the signs of a great nation?
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 Deus judicium
Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King's Son;
That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;
That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.
He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.
He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.
In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.
Blessed be the Lord GOD, the God of Israel, *
who alone does wondrous deeds!
And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! *
and may all the earth be filled with his glory.
A superscription assigns this psalm to Solomon, but that seems unlikely in that the psalm is an intercession for the king. Later Jewish commentators felt that this was a psalm about the messiah, which seems to flow from the themes of justice, and righteousness lifted up in the early verses of the psalm. Whatever its provenance, it certainly has a kinship with the thoughts of Isaiah in the first reading. Whether Isaiah was inspired by these verses, or visa versa is not important. What is important are the hopes for righteous rule in Israel, which hopes are assigned to the messiah.
|King David at the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela|
Breaking open Psalm 72:
1. In your mind, what are the qualities of an ideal ruler?
2. Do these qualities find themselves in the way your rule in your family or in your work?
3. What does it mean to be righteous?
Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
"Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name";
and again he says,
"Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people";
"Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him";
and again Isaiah says,
"The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope."
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul is attempting to build a gracious and tolerant community – a community that respects the faith of the Gentiles that are drawn to the Gospel, and equally respects the traditions of the Jews upon which Christian theological thought is based. It is all useful, according to Paul, and the conversation that surrounds the discussion of these traditions is a bridge between Gentile and Jew. Paul, a lover of lists, lists quotes from the Psalms (18) (117), Deuteronomy (32), and Isaiah (11). These form a chain of hope for Paul – and this is his theme in this reading. Christ is the hope for not only the Jew, but the Gentile as well. This hope is abetted by the Holy Spirit breathing life into a new creation. Paul’s thoughts form a perfect Advent exhortation.
Breaking open Romans:
1. What does hope mean to you?
2. For what do you hope?
3. For what should this parish hope?
4. For what should our nation hope?
Saint Matthew 3:1-12
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: `Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'"
Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
|St. John the Baptist|
Matthew reports as if his readers/hearers were on the scene, in the present. We are introduced to the nazirite (an ascetic, one consecrated or separated from society) John the Baptist. The Gospels of Luke and John will wrestle with John the Baptist and his role in the Christian Narrative. Matthew, however, has no such problems. He wants his readers to hear John’s message – a precursor to the message that Jesus will bring, and the kingdom of heaven that Jesus will proclaim. In prophetic style, John announces a series of woes that flow from his own message of repentance into the ministry of Jesus who will act as a messianic judge. In the Advent lectionary, we focus on John twice in the readings. They give us an opportunity to look at the problems that Jesus hopes to address, and the full scope of religiosity at the time. John takes on the role and literally the garments of the ancient prophets. Jesus will be something entirely different. John poses the conundrum, Jesus resolves it.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- What is the “good fruit” that John the Baptist is speaking of?
- What does he mean when he says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire?
- How have you been baptized with fire?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.