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


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