Tuesday, November 29, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent

The Messiah is coming… Emmanuel.  How do we know this?  Prophets through the ages have been telling us and their scribes have been preserving those words so that we can recognize the signs.  Our readings for this coming Sunday give a picture of who this deliverer will be, who he’s come for, and how we should respond:

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Romans 15:4-9
Mathew 3:1-12

Our first reading is from the prophet Isaiah.  Here he describes for us a vision of the ideal king… the one who will “fear the Lord” and be a just judge; whose words will be his only weapons and whose reign will bring universal peace.  It will be so glorious that all the nations will seek it out.  To our Christian ears, this “shoot of Jesse” (King David’s father) sounds very much like Jesus himself.  But wait… This passage dates back some 720 years before Jesus.  Sometimes when we get a prophecy like this we need to pause and remind ourselves that Isaiah wasn’t speaking specifically about Jesus, but rather, about the qualities the messiah would possess.  Often it is our 20/20 hindsight that allows us to recognize Jesus in this prophecy.  It also helps us to consider where Isaiah was coming from when he said this.  In this case, the previous chapters just before this verse consist of a long and scathing oracle against the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  Kingdoms that have turned their back on God.  Isaiah is prophesying that there will rise a new king who will love the Lord and serve as the “ideal” king.  Our Psalm reflects this sentiment as we sing, “Justice will flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.”

So, our first reading tells us who this new king will be so we can recognize him when he comes.  But for whom will this new king be coming?  Our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us.  First, Paul reminds us to be attentive to the scriptures, because these provide us instruction, endurance, encouragement, and hope.  Then, using those same scriptures, reminds us that Jesus, the prophesied new king, came not only for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well.

Now that we know who this new king is coming to serve, what must we do to prepare?  Our Gospel from Matthew has the answer.  In this Sunday’s passage we are introduced to John the Baptist… the unconventional messenger for this unconventional new king.  John’s message?  “Repent, for the kingdom is at hand!”  Just as Isaiah was trying to teach the people of Israel and Judah to change their ways and turn back to the Lord, John is reminding the people of Jerusalem (including the Pharisees and Sadducees in attendance) that they much repent of their sins.  It’s decision time, where the wheat will be separated from the chaff.

Final thoughts:

John’s message can be terrifying… leaving us to fear that we will be the chaff sent into the fire.  But John’s message isn’t one of fear, but of hope.  We all have a chance to bear fruit in this new Kingdom of God.  We can all save ourselves from the unquenchable fire.  All we have to do is repent.  To prayerfully examine our consciences, admit where we have made mistakes, and take action to get right and stay right with God.  And it’s an invitation open to everyone!

While I often bemoan the fact that our secular world has confiscated and mutated our traditions of Christmas, I also hold out hope that the true message of Advent and Christmas will come through all the clutter… the message that Christ came for everyone, and salvation is open to all who are willing to follow.

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