29 November 2019

The Second Sunday of Advent, 8 December 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
St. Matthew 3:1-12

Background: The Jesse Tree

In this passage from Isaiah (11:1But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom, there grew during the medieval period an illustration of the “stump of Jesse” and a sprouting tree which showed the genealogy of Jesus. The earliest examples of this tree date from the 11th century, seen primarily in illustrations but also in stained glass and sculpture as well. It underscored the connections of Jesus to the lineage of David and the Davidic kingship. Christian theology would talk about Jesus as prophet, priest, and king. The various depictions taught this genealogy and theology to the thousands who observed the artwork in cathedrals, parish churches, and other public sites. It rooted the nativity of our Lord in the Salvation History of the Hebrew Scriptures.
mind is Maranatha.

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
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.

In the midst of oracles announcing judgment from marching armies, the threat of Assyria, the downfall of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) comes a note of hope. Indeed it is more than a hope in that Isaiah sees it as a present reality. This rule stands in a sharp contrast to the last of the Davidid kings, and to the rules in Mesopotamia. The prophet reaches back to the urgrund of the monarchy – not to David but rather the rootedness in his father Jesse. This ruler will be filled with the Spirit, and will be an example of the attributes of that Spirit – wisdom, understanding, council, might, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. From this Spirit will come a kingship not like that which the people had experienced, a kingship that is borne not of his human ability, “he shall not rule by what his eye sees, or decide by shat his ears hear.” The token of this new kingship shall be righteousness, and in it the traditional objects of prophet concern, widow, orphan, the poor, will be aided and healed. The prophetic hope will reach far beyond the quotidian demands of the people. It will be an ideal world of peace with “nursing children putting their hands on the adder’s den.” There are hints here that this hope will extend beyond the old borders and interests to include all the nations. Truly a messianic hope.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.            What is your ideal world like?
2.            How does your ideal world deal with the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed?
3.            What role do you play?

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.
18    Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, *
who alone does wondrous deeds!
19    And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! *
and may all the earth be filled with his glory.
Amen. Amen.

The hopes of Isaiah are followed by this psalm which is in essence a prayer for the king – the attribution reads, “for Solomon.” It is full of the hopes we have already met in the first reading – a righteous rule, full of justice. The psalm also has a universalistic aspect (verses 8-17) which recognizes the participation of the nations in this rule of peace. The focus is on the needy, the poor, and the oppressed, and a rule that will continue as long as the sun and moon endure. 

Breaking open Psalm 722:
1.        What is your prayer for the head of state?
2.        What is your prayer for the legislature?
3.        What is your prayer for the courts?

Second Reading: Romans 15:4-13

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";

and again,

            "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.

The initial verses of our reading give an exhortation on the part of Paul that the people of the church of Rome live together in unity. He must strike that note so that he can in the later verses strike another note of inclusion. The unity that he sees is born of Jesus Christ, and all together join voices to praise the Christ who redeems them. Then Paul makes an excursion into what the hope of Christ brings first to the people of Israel in remembrance of the covenant with the fathers and mothers who have gone before. Now it is the gentiles who must become a part of this family. Here he uses the Psalms and Isaiah as proof texts for this inclusion in the hope of the root of Jesse. 

Breaking open Romans:
  1. Who are gentiles to you?
  2. Who would you like to see in your church that aren’t there?
  3. Who is it difficult to invite into your spiritual life?

The Gospel: St. 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.”

On this Sunday when we hear of Isaiah’s promise of the Root, we also meet a latter-day prophet in John the Baptist. Matthew is so much a part of the Isaiah promise and hope evident in the first reading that he quotes second Isaiah – a description of the prophetic work of John. We see both scene and audience – the wilderness which refreshes the hearts of those who seek God, and the people who are indeed seeking God. Here Matthew’s John looks beyond the status quo of Israel, and asks them to anticipate something new. His preaching will continue next Sunday as he intensifies his message. Today however, we hear anticipation of the separation of the righteous from the wicked, much in the manner of what we read in Isaiah in the first reading.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        Where does John’s sermon strike you?
2.        What anticipations does it strike in you?
3.        How is John like Isaiah?

General Idea:              Anticipating More

First Example:            The hopes rooted in Jesse and the Spirit (First Reading)

Second Example:       More wisdom from our rulers (Psalm)

Third Example:          More people than we thought possible (Second Reading)

Fourth Example:        More in the wilderness (Gospel)

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

25 November 2019

The First Sunday of Advent, 1 December 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
St. Matthew 24:36-44

Background: Advent absent Christmas

It is a battle that has been long lost, at least at a cultural level. When we were in Munich in October, we saw emerging Advent Calendars, but also saw glimmers of Christmas decorations even in Catholic Vienna. Society has taken what was once the purview of the Church and has made its own, turning it into something different. That is why I think it is necessary for us to observe an Advent absent Christmas. We need an Advent of waiting – a Pauline kind of waiting, active in good deeds and actions. There is a temptation in this season to equate Christmas giving with giving, but be not fooled – it is consumerism plan and simple. The work of the season is to work for the coming of the Kingdom of God. If we keep that agenda in mind, then the readings of the lectionary will have a different meaning and impact. The prayer we need to keep in mind is Maranatha.

First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!

This is indeed a reading for our time. It is all about the Kingdom of God and God’s agenda. We have met the first of the Isaiahs already in the first chapter. This second introduction may be an introduction to the collection comprising chapters 2-12, addressed to Judah and Jerusalem. For a comparison take a look at Chapter 13, where we see the beginnings of oracles against Jerusalem’s enemies. In these earlier chapters we read of the hope of non-war, and the peace that God wills.

As we look at the particularities of the text that follows we find an oracle that reminds us of Micah (4:1-4)

In days to come
the mount of the LORD’s house
Shall be established as the highest mountain;
it shall be raised above the hills,
And peoples shall stream to it. 

Perhaps this is a passage that predates both Isaiah and Micah, and is really quite ancient. It may represent a multi-layered composite of prophetic hopes centered on the Kingdom of God and all that comes with it. “In the days to come” has a hint of the Day of the Lord, along with a sense of the pilgrim-history of Israel. Isaiah’s take, however, is that God breaks into what was to make for something new and outrageous. It is this notion that makes this a great Advent text. There is a new creation here with the city and the mountain, indeed all of creation being made new. What was (swords and spears) are swept away and repurposed. God is the ultimate judge and not just of Israel but of all the nations. It is this hope that is the light of the final verse, “come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.            What is your spiritual destination?
2.            How will you know when you have arrived there?
3.            In what way is Advent meaningful to you?

Psalm 122 Laetatus sum

     I was glad when they said to me, *
"Let us go to the house of the Lord."
     Now our feet are standing *
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
     Jerusalem is built as a city *
that is at unity with itself;
     To which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord, *
the assembly of Israel,
to praise the Name of the Lord.
     For there are the thrones of judgment, *
the thrones of the house of David.
     Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
"May they prosper who love you.
     Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.
     For my brethren and companions' sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.
     Because of the house of the Lord our God, *
I will seek to do you good."

This pilgrim song, sung by those walking up to Jerusalem, wants us to ask the question, “to which Jerusalem are we climbing”?  Is it the old Jerusalem of David and Solomon, or is it the Jerusalem born in the dreams of first Isaiah? Whichever is true, we are welcomed into the city, and into the temple precincts where all the tribes go up. What shall we find there? Both judgment and peace are found there. Here is the central place, the high place of Israelite worship, the place where all gather to hear God’s will and to experience God’ peace and prosperity. If this is Isaiah’s Jerusalem, then it is a place that exceeds what had been there before, with a vision of a new Jerusalem, and a new justice and worship met there.

Breaking open Psalm 122:
1.        In what ways is your life a pilgrimage?
2.        Where do you to go find justice?
3.        Where do you find peace?

Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14

You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Paul offers us contrasts here: night and day, the works of darkness and the armor of light. This season asks us to step into the new, and to await what God’s new creation will bring. Here Paul actualizes the new and sees it as a contrast to not only what has gone on before but as a contrast to darkness and its works, which he lists for us. The waiting and living may be done “honorably.” A new garment, that is literally Jesus Christ, must be put on as we wait for his coming again.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. When is your life darkness?
  2. When is your life light?
  3. Which is better for you?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 24:36-44

Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

If Isaiah sees a new day, Jesus, in Matthew sees the end of time and the unexpected coming of the Kingdom. What does Jesus see here? Is it the immanent end that would be realized in 70 CE when Rome destroys Jerusalem, or is it far beyond that? Perhaps it is a good thing for us to honor both possibilities, so that we might have the foresight to see even our own time. It might be good for you to read through the entirety of both Chapters 24 and 25 to feel Jesus’ intent and vision, providing a good context for his sayings here. What Jesus calls for in our pericope today is preparation and readiness. The difficulty lies in that this is a preparation for an unknown time, a startling event. It is known only to the Father and is a mystery and an unknown to us. 

Jesus reminds his hearers of Noah’s experience, how the flood interrupted the flow of daily life. The Advent is unknown to us in the midst of the busyness of Christmas. Jesus describes the randomness of the coming in the midst of daily life. Its reality will be one thing to one person, and something entirely different to someone else. The temptation of these texts is to assign them to dispensationalism. What he is really pointing to is those who are taken up in the judgment of the world, and those who survive as a remnant – a wonderful prophetic word. Preparedness is the order of the day – really of the hour of Christ’s coming.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        Where/when has God interrupted your life?
2.        What was your reaction?
3.        How do you prepare for God’s presence?

Central Idea;               Waiting

Example 1:                  Awaiting God’ Justice (First Reading)

Example 2:                  Awaiting in the Temple (Psalm)

Example 3:                  Awaiting in Darkness, and in the Day (Second Reading)

Example 4:                  Awaiting with Awareness of the times (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 


Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller