4 December 2016: Second Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 11:1-10 Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 Rom 15:4-9 Mt 3:1-12

 

Advent preparations: seeking, hoping, changing direction

Purple_banner_sm As we continue our Advent waiting and preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas, the Lectionary reminds RCIA participants and the believing community about promises and their fulfillment, and our need for conversion to prepare the way.

In the first reading, Isaiah foresees a new king from David’s line. God will invest this anointed one (messiah) with God’s own spirit and gifts (v 2): intellect (wisdom and understanding), leadership (counsel and strength), and spirituality (knowledge and awe before God). The messiah will judge everyone justly (v 3-5): the poor and afflicted, the ruthless and the wicked. He will restore peace to God’s kingdom (v 6-9). He will be so great and just that the gentiles will seek out and join his kingdom (v 10).

In the second reading, Paul urges the Roman ekklasia to look to scripture as a source of continuing hope. God’s every act contains within it an expectation for something more. For example, God’s covenant promises a future messiah; Jesus’ incarnation promises a future Second Coming. Scripture gives hope because it tells not only of promises fulfilled, but also of glory to come.

In the gospel, Matthew introduces John the Baptizer in his role as Jesus’ herald. He carefully lays out John’s prophetic pedigree and purpose:

  • John’s place: John preaches in the desert or wilderness on the opposite side of the Jordan river. For first-century Jews, John’s location resonates with hope and new life. During the Exodus, God led the Israelites through the wilderness, across the Jordan river, and into the Promised Land. The prophets promised that God would again bring the Jewish people to the wilderness to rededicate them as God’s people (Hos 2:16). John calls the people to the wilderness, baptizes them in the Jordan, and has them reenter the Promised Land–re-enacting their Exodus story and their return to God.
  • John’s clothes: John wears the same camel-hide robe and leather belt as the prophet Elijah (2 Kgs 1:8). The Jews expected Elijah to return to “prepare the way before God” (Mal 3:1, 23-24) and to restore the tribes of Israel. Like Elijah, John confronts a sinful ruler (Ahab/Herod). Like Elijah, John prepares for a greater prophet (Elisha/Jesus) who will cleanse lepers, raise a dead child, and multiply bread to feed the crowds. In prophetic dress, John’s words and actions signal that Elijah has returned and the day of the Lord is near.
  • John’s message: John preaches metanoia: a change of heart and mind. In Jewish thought, metanoia meant a simultaneous turning away from evil and a turning toward God–a dramatic change in direction. John urgently announces “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This kingdom isn’t a place; it’s God’s dynamic kingship over God’s people. John announces that God’s promised reign is about to begin.

During our Advent waiting, the readings call RCIA participants and the whole believing community to prepare for Jesus’ coming with hope and joy. Isaiah gives us a glimpse of God’s future peaceable kingdom. Paul tells us to listen to scriptures’ fulfillments and future hope. Matthew traces how John the Baptizer fulfills the prophecies. John reminds us that we prepare the way. Whose kingdom are we seeking? For what are we hoping? From what are we turning away? Toward what–or toward whom–are we traveling?

—Terence Sherlock

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