Old Testament: 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 Response: Psalm (72:1-7, 18-19)
1 Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King’s Son;
2 That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;
3 That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.
4 He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
5 He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.
7 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.
The Epistle: 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 Gospel: 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Patient waiting, attentiveness, and being prepared are all themes of this season of Advent. But towering over all of them is an emphasis on hope.
Hope is an approach to life, an empowering force within our life that has sometimes been ridiculed by those who are not people of faith. But that happens only because those critics either misunderstand or intentionally misrepresent the genuine meaning of hope as it is experienced and expressed in the scriptures. Their caricature stands in clear contrast to an intelligent, mature, empowering hope.
Hope is not wishful thinking. It is not a Pollyanna-like attitude that ignores reality and provides some sort of mental and emotional escape from the real world in which we live. It’s not life in la-la land, detached from the sometimes harsh realities that people face.
Instead, genuine hope, biblical hope, is a confidence in the future that is based on a solid foundation. It is based on the one who is always faithful: on the God who is both the source of and the fulfillment of our hope. It is not a naïve denial of reality, but the affirmation of a greater reality. It is a virtue, a characteristic, an approach to life that opens us up to a far more expansive and inclusive perspective.
The prophet Isaiah, from whose teachings the familiar images of our first reading were taken, lived in and was sustained by and consistently proclaimed that sort of hope. Isaiah lived and worked in the late-eighth and early-seventh centuries BCE, at a time when Assyria was the dominant power in his part of the world and when it had begun to exert its domination over Israel and Judah. Isaiah clearly recognized, and forced his contemporaries to recognize and confront, the situation in which they were living and its implications both for the nation and for all of them as individuals.
But in today’s reading, he envisions also two things. First, he describes an ideal king in the line of David who would care for the meek and the poor and who would inspire all the others nations. And second, he paints a picture of a time and of a way of being in which all creation would live together in harmony. While dealing realistically and openly with Judah’s current crisis, he tried to open the people’s eyes to the bigger picture and to raise their minds to God’s perspective.
Isaiah’s prophecy was never fulfilled. The new king who was born and came to the throne during his long ministry, Hezekiah, proved to be a relatively good king, bringing much needed reform to Judah and Jerusalem; but he also proved to be a disappointment in other ways. And as for the vision of that “peaceable kingdom,” we still see no signs of its imminent arrival. Yet people throughout the centuries have recognized Isaiah as a genuine and faithful prophet of God. They have recognized a broader, more capacious way of thinking about and living in hope, even when they themselves cannot see the fulfilment of the promise.
Isaiah lived in that sort of hope and proclaimed that sort of hope. His words continue to provide the script and the text for Advent, this season of hope. Isaiah realized that, just because he did not live to see the promise fulfilled, did not mean that God would not bring it about someday. He accepted the fact that God’s perspective was far more expansive that his own, and he was willing to do what he could in his life to further God’s goal, even if he himself would never live to see the result.
Isaiah never took the approach that he could just sit back and passively wait for the world that he envisioned to appear. Instead he dedicated his entire life to working for the coming of that day, for the realization of that vision. Isaiah adopted the approach to life and to hope that was later envisioned by Augustine who wrote: “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”
That is the sort of hope that is exemplified also by Paul, who wrote the words of today’s second reading. Like Isaiah, Paul maintained his focus on his hope in the coming, in all its fullness, of the kingdom of God. He focused his attention on God’s work, begun in Jesus, to gather into one family all the people of the world, breaking down the walls that had separated Jews from non-Jews, slaves from free persons, men from women, and all the other walls that we human beings build up to protect ourselves in our insecurities and to keep other people out. We continue to build those walls today, constructing them of the stones of racial division, of nationalism, of selfishness and self-centeredness, of manufactured and mostly baseless suspicions and fears, and of discrimination against others who seem to be different from us in a variety of ways. Paul recognized and identified and struggled against those walls in his own time. Yet Paul lived and died in the firm hope that God was at work in Christ and in Christ’s followers, tearing down those walls and recreating all things to be what God intends them to be.
John the Baptist, about whose message we heard in our gospel, likewise lived and died in that hope. He faithfully endured the hostility of the leaders of his time as he proclaimed and worked for the coming of what he called “the kingdom of heaven,” or “the kingdom of God.” It would be the same hopeful vision that Jesus would begin to proclaim after John’s arrest, and that we have committed ourselves to proclaim and work for in Jesus’ name.
We, too, need to hold to that vision and to embrace that hope. For it is that hope that gives direction and purpose to our lives. British poet laureate, Robert Bridges, once reflected (Sonnet 63):
“I live in hope and that I think do all
Who come into this world.”
It is hope that gives life: not a childish dream of a fantasy world, but a genuine, mature, empowering hope that is based on the ever-faithful God of all creation.
As Paul prays at the end of today’s second reading (Romans 15:13): “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.” That is the hope of Isaiah. That is the hope of Paul. That is the hope of John the Baptist. That is the hope of Jesus. That is the hope of Advent.