Second Sunday of Advent
First Reading Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Second Reading Romans 15:4-9
Gospel Matthew 3:1-12
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
O God, give your judgment to the king; your justice to the king’s son; That he may govern your people with justice, your oppressed with right judgment, That abundance may flourish in his days, great bounty, till the moon be no more. May he rule from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth. For he rescues the poor when they cry out, the oppressed who have no one to help. He shows pity to the needy and the poor and saves the lives of the poor. May his name be forever; as long as the sun, may his name endure. May the tribes of the earth give blessings with his name; may all the nations regard him as favored.
Reading the Word
But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, But he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide fairly for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. 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. They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea. On that day, The root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the peoples— Him the nations will seek out; his dwelling shall be glorious.
For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I say that Christ became a minister of the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises to the patriarchs, but so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing praises to your name.”
In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea [and] saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ ” John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 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. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Hearing the Word
“Harmony: Produce the Fruit of Repentance”
The liturgy of the first Sunday of Advent focused on the world which God will establish in the future, and the need to orient our life towards it. The liturgy of the second Sunday of Advent continues the theme, indicating the way in which God will accomplish this change. It expands the theme by indicating our role as Christians in this process. First, Isaiah writes about somebody who will act as God’s agent in this transformation. This person will have a very definite origin: he will come from “the stump of Jesse.” Since Jesse was the father of king David, this new leader will originate from his lineage. He will be “the Son of David”. In the biblical language we call this leader “Messiah”, which means “anointed one.” Anointing was a way of designating somebody for a very particular role of king or priest, somebody of extraordinary importance. But this leader will come from the “stump”, the remainder of a fallen tree! Isaiah employs this sad image to reflect real, historical circumstances of the time: Davidic kings were failing as leaders of God’s people, and the dynasty would eventually disappear altogether. Isaiah also wants to emphasize that traditional Jewish hopes connected with the house of David and its kings should not be uncritically applied to this new leader. God’s Messiah will be a leader of new quality and purpose. The authority of the Messiah will not come from anointing with oil, but through anointing with the Spirit of God. The Spirit will endow him with unique set of qualities which will enable him to be a capable leader after God’s heart: wisdom and understanding for knowing God’s will, counsel and strength for implementing it, knowledge and fear of the Lord for serving God faithfully. The purpose of this just, righteous and faithful leader is also made clear: he will not focus on rebuilding the earthly kingdom of David in Palestine, but on restoration of harmony and peace in God’s creation. As a result of his work predators will no longer harm grass-grazing animals, and infants will have nothing to fear from snakes. These metaphors clearly evoke the creation narrative from Genesis ch 2, which paints the picture of the complete harmony that existed at the beginning of creation in the garden of Eden. The prophet alludes to the restored creation, God’s “holy mountain”, mentioned already in last Sunday’s readings. God’s promised Messiah will work with the power of God’s Spirit to renew harmony in creation according to God’s intent and design. The Christian community already on this Earth, anticipates and participates in this renewed creation through harmony that exists among its members. For Paul, to be Christian is to be the “new creation” as an individual, and a part of the harmonious and peace-loving community which reflects God’s original intent for humanity. This is why, when concluding his exhortation to the Romans, Paul focuses on the harmony that ought to exist between believers. He begins by invoking the Old Testament as words that bring instruction and encouragement. They do so by showing that what God has originally planned for humanity was fulfilled in and through Jesus, God’s Messiah. What did Jesus do? According to Paul he united humanity, previously divided on ethnic and religious grounds into Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews), into one inclusive people of God. Jesus the Messiah invited and welcomed all believers into that great new creation. He enabled all humanity to participate in this renewed creation by removing divisions between races and peoples. In the first two readings we are told of God’s purposes and designs for us. But how do we respond to what God planned, and then accomplished through his Messiah? The fierce figure of John the Baptism is brought into view to answer the question. John’s life and ministry fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah (40:3): by God’s design he prepares the world for the coming of the Messiah. At the same time, he himself is a prophet who resembles Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs 1:8). As a prophet, John instructs us on how to receive and respond to God’s Messiah. His message is concise and clear: produce good fruit of repentance. The people receiving John’s baptism were doing the right thing, in acknowledging sinfulness and being baptized they were changing their life’s orientation by choosing the morally good path. Yet, one group among them merited John’s wrath: Jewish leaders of the time, named as Pharisees and Sadducees. John attacks them using strong language of judgment and condemnation because, while receiving baptism, they apparently had no intention of “producing the fruit.” Instead of doing what repentance and baptism required, they relied on having Abraham as their father. This means that they considered their ethnic and religious status of being Israelites as sufficient in itself. John, preparing the way for Jesus’ work, declares that more is required in order to receive God’s Messiah; it implies receiving a baptism of the Spirit. Producing the good fruit means more than just renouncing sins. It means baptism with the Spirit by Jesus. Such a baptism means placing oneself under the guidance of the Spirit in order to live and act as Jesus does: welcoming others, especially non-Jews, into the inclusive and peaceable community of God’s children. The liturgy of the Word for the second Sunday of Advent, once again, revels to us God’s intention: the renewal of creation and humanity through restoration of peace and harmony in it. God has begun this process by sending Jesus as the Messiah – his agent who makes it possible because he “baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” This baptism enables us, the believers, to act like him: welcoming one another, creating harmonious and inclusive communities which are the first step towards the renewed creation. Participation in this process is the fruit of the true repentance required by John, and the mark of being an authentic disciple of Jesus, the true Leader and God’s Messiah. With the Psalmist, therefore, we pray that God may give the Spirit to his Messiah, so that he might lead his people, and pour this Spirit on us. Empowered by the Spirit we, in turn, will be able to taste the peace and harmony of God’s renewed creation already on Earth by living in harmony as God’s people.
Listening to the Word of God
There is much talk today among Christians within and outside the Catholic Church about the Holy Spirit, and what it means to be filled with the Spirit. Some emphasize the gifts of the Spirit as speaking in tongues and others as healing and deliverance from evil. Is the Holy Spirit, therefore, only concerned with our spiritual lives? We live in a continent where many continue to suffer, primarily because political leadership and economic systems benefit a minority at the expense of the majority. Can a “Spirit-filled” Christian confront the injustices of economic and political systems and offer a different system built on justice, the common good and equality? What does it mean to be a Spirit-filled Christian living in Africa in the midst of so many challenges? In the readings of today we encounter the Holy Spirit acting in ways that may seem unfamiliar. We learn a different meaning of what it means to be Spirit-filled, a meaning that may empower us to respond to the injustices on our African context. The Holy Spirit is concerned with injustice, oppression, inequality, suffering and poverty that comes from ruthless leaders and unjust economic and political systems. To be filled with the Spirit is to be concerned about all these issues, not just the spiritual life. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit empowers Christians through His gifts to address these issues intelligently and courageously. These gifts are ‘wisdom, understanding, counsel and strength,’ so with these gifts and knowledge from other disciplines (economics, politics, history etc.), Christians can challenge existing systems, as well as propose new systems that bring justice for the poor and marginalized. This type of justice, built on the principles of the Gospel, can bring prosperity and harmonious relationships, particularly between known rivals, as illustrated through the image of the lamb and lion living peacefully together. We are all familiar with the violence and divisions driven by ethnicity, tribalism, racism, classism, that is destroying our continent, countries, Churches and families. In this context of conflict and injustice, we are called to repent, for example, to repent from non-action and indifference, or from participating in injustice. It is not enough to be sorry or regret our wrongdoing; true repentance is followed by concrete actions that show a difference from what we used to do. This Sunday calls for varied expressions of true repentance, such as confronting unjust political and economic practices, addressing ruthless leaders, fighting for the poor, promoting peace and reconciliation, sharing one’s resources with those in need, working for harmony in our Church community and in the Church. This is what it means to be a Spirit-filled Christian who follows the paths of Jesus in Africa today. It may seem overwhelming and frightening to even talk about political and economic issues, but we are not alone, the Spirit is with us. Let us remember this African proverb: “An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.”
“An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.”
Am I, or my community participating in divisive practices, religious, ethnic, economic, in and outside of my Church community or country?
Response to God
Pray for the Spirit to empower you to do the work of reconciliation and bridge-building in the place where you and your group lives.
Response to your World
Plan to visit an organization that is involved in justice and reconciliation work in your community, or find out what the justice and peace group in your parish is doing. Choose one area where you and your group can support their work or make a difference.
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” St Theresa of Avila