The coming of the Messiah
Today’s first reading blends the two, but reflects a growing emphasis on the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah’s disillusionment with the kings of his own time leads him to dream about an ideal king who will rule the people with the mind and heart of God.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist is preparing the people for the coming of the ideal or messianic King.
In the second reading, Paul tells his readers that Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise to the Israelites.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the viper’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. — Is 11:6-8 (NAB)
Pause for a moment and listen to one of the following songs.
Come, Emmanuel, to us and to our world. Where there is hatred and division, bring your peace and harmony. Where there is discouragement, bring your hope. Where there is deception and falsehood, bring your truth. Come open our hearts to your Spirit. Prepare our hearts and all the people of the world for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, who is peace. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
From the stump of Jesse
Disillusioned with King Ahaz, a contemporary of Isaiah, the prophet assures his people that God will raise up a faithful King who will rule his people with the mind and heart of God. This new King will come from the ‘stump of Jesse’ (David’s father). ‘Stump’ implies that the house of Jesse and his descendants have been cut down and the monarchy defeated. But appearances are deceptive, for out of this seemingly defeated stump will sprout a shoot―a new plant upon which the Spirit of the Lord will rest. Even though Isaiah, most likely, has in mind the yet-to-be born King Hezekiah who will reign close to his time, Christians see Christ as the ideal King spoken of by Isaiah.
There are several divine gifts that will be bestowed on the future King to enable him to rule in a way that is pleasing to God. (We learn about these ‘Isaian gifts’ of the Spirit when preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation.)
Isaiah dreams or imagines a time when a wonderful peace will reign in the land of Israel. Enemies will live in harmony with each other. The King, springing from the stump of Jesse, will be so divinely inspired that even the Gentiles will seek him out.
On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,and from his roots a bud shall blossom. — Is 11:1 (NAB)
Justice shall flourish
In this royal psalm, the psalmist asks God to bless the King, especially with justice so that he in turn can bless his people and help them to experience justice and peace in their lives.
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save. — Ps 72:12-13 (NAB)
Living in perfect harmony
Paul is writing to a community comprising both Jewish and Gentile Christians, with very dedicated followers of Christ and some not so dedicated. Paul strongly exhorts all members of the Roman Christian community to be patient with each other and to live together in “perfect harmony,” accepting each other as Christ accepts them. Their unity and mutual respect glorify God.
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus. — Rom 15:5 (NAB)
John’s call to repentance
Each year on the second Sunday of Advent, we meet John the Baptist out in the desert where he is preparing large crowds for the coming of Jesus. His message is a call to repentance. The “repentance” John calls for does not concern attention to the externals of one’s religion, but rather a total change of mind and heart which would manifest itself in “good fruits” like prayerfulness and justice in one’s relationships with others. Such a change of heart and behavior would prepare people to welcome the Messiah and his message.
John shows little patience for the insincere Pharisees who step forward for his baptism. In his eyes, they do not manifest the “true fruits of repentance.” They are just going through the motions of conversion, perhaps to look good in the eyes of people who are so drawn to John’s message.
It would seem that when Matthew was writing his Gospel to a largely Jewish audience about 50 years after Jesus’ death, there may have been some competition between the followers of John and the followers of Jesus. Matthew wants to make it very clear that true disciples of John should also be disciples of Jesus, since John himself was a disciple of Jesus and regarded his ministry as inferior to that of Jesus.
Finally, references to ‘winnowing fan,’ ‘fire,’ and ‘ax’ speak of a coming judgment when the truly converted will be separated from the unconverted. We too are called to repent as a way of preparing our hearts for the coming of the Lord.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. — Mat 3:10 (NAB)
This week’s questions
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1. Turn to the person next to you and share what word/s or image/s in the readings caught your attention? Did they comfort or challenge you or touch you in some way?
2. Both Isaiah and Paul dreamed of a world in which people lived in harmony with each other. What are some common ‘peace-breakers’ in homes and parish communities? What are some concrete things we can do to replace walls with bridges?
3. John the Baptist roundly condemns the Pharisees and Sadducees for their empty show of religion. What are some common ways we can falsely practice our faith?
4. John the Baptist tells us to “produce good fruit as evidence of repentance.” What are some concrete signs or fruits of life converted to Christ?
5. Name one thing today’s Gospel says to us that we disciples of Jesus need to heed and act on.
Responding to the Word
Suggestions on ways to act:
1. If there is some relationship in your life that needs to be restored to peace, make sure you are doing your bit to restore the peace.
2. Name and practice one good fruit that shows you are working on ongoing conversion in your life.
Having listened to God’s Word and listened to others’ reflections on it, take a quiet moment to reflect on what you are hearing God say to you. Your response will be what you bring to Eucharist on Sunday, asking Jesus to help you respond as he asks of you. When ready, jot down your reflections.
Praying with the Word
Jesus, as I continue to prepare to celebrate your coming into our world, help me see one thing that is stopping me from a more complete commitment to you.
Father in heaven,our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us the strength to grow in love,that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.
The prophets and the expectation of the Messiah
The mission of John the Baptist
719 “John the Baptist is “more than a prophet.” In him, the Holy Spirit concludes his speaking through the prophets. John completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah. He proclaims the imminence of the consolation of Israel; he is the “voice” of the Consoler who is coming. As the Spirit of truth will also do, John “came to bear witness to the light.” In John’s sight, the Spirit thus brings to completion the careful search of the prophets and fulfills the longing of the angels. “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. . . . Behold, the Lamb of God.”
Conversion of the baptized
NOTE: The above paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church resonate with this week’s biblical readings. They have been chosen because they cite or allude to the specific readings, or because they treat topics found in the readings.