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Texts for Advent 2, Year A (Dec 8, 2019)

Texts: OT – Isaiah 11.1-10; Psalm – 72.1-7, 28-29; NT – Romans 15.4-13; Gospel – Matthew 3.1-12 All biblical quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.

Texts cited:  Texts For Preaching: Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV – Year a, eds. Walter Brueggemann, Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa, James D. Newsome (Westminster John Knox Press, 1995) – cited as TFP 

The Lections for this Second Sunday of Advent, Year A, all connect the hope we have as God’s people to "a visible, public, shared yearning” (TFP 10). The promise of God to God’s people involves a deep and fundamental transformation of social relationships in which God’s purpose and will prevails. The primary responsibility of kings in the ancient world involves the dispensation of justice and mediating social power and goods. This is why, as TFP explains, “the Old Testament roots of Advent hope are cast in Royal imagery (10).”

The Old Testament lection describes the political situation of Jerusalem as dominated by a “stump” (of Jesse – David’s father; v.1), whereas the spiritual life of Israel is sustained by “the spirit” (v.2). The Royal Line of David had, by Isaiah’s times, fallen on very hard times. The prophecy from 1Sam 8.10-18 concerning what will happen if Israel’s gets a king, as opposed to the theocratic rule of God in Israel through God’s Judges, has proven fully to be true. And depending on how the text is dated, that Royal Line has met with God’s judgment, either in the form of the Babylonian exile in the 6th century, or the humiliating defeat by the Assyrians in the 8th century (TFP 11). Either way, no one is looking to Jesse’s stump as a source of hope and inspiration. God’s Spirit, however, is not finished with Israel. Isaiah, however, prophecies of a “shoot” that the Spirit will raise up from that stump that will “bear fruit” once again (v.1). Playing off the Hebrew word for “spirit” here (ר֣וּחַ; ruach), which means alternately breath or wind or spirit, TFP 11 describes the shoot as the “wind of God” that is “inscrutable, irresistible, beyond human control, management, or predictability” (cf. v.2). Whatever else has come against Israel – including her own self-destructive behaviour (i.e., her sin) – God’s spirit will prevail! Despite the seeming insignificance of the little “shoot” of David’s line, with the wind of God blowing behind it, this shoot becomes the king Israel has longed for – one who dispenses judgments that are good, fair, and equitable. As TFP explains, “The new king, powered by the spirit, will not be open to bribes (‘what his eyes see’) or convinced by propaganda (‘what his ears hear’) (v.3). He will, rather, be the kind of judge who will attend to the needs of the ‘meek’ and the ‘poor,’ that is, the socially powerless” (11-12). We Christians, as famously recounted in Handel’s Messiah, see this as an exact reference to the rule and reign of Jesus of Nazareth, Son of David and Son of God.

The New Testament Lection contains a powerful exhortation for all Christians to “accept one another,” no matter our station, background, or circumstance, precisely because the Spirit has raised up Jesus to be a hope for all people (cf. vv.7,12). God in Christ welcomes each one of us and that is the cause of God’s being glorified (v.7). We ought therefore to welcome others – not because of their inherent value or their accomplishments or even because of their repentance; but for God’s glory. As TFP summarizes, “The hope that issues forth from this struggle to articulate what God has done for us in Jesus Christ is the hope that every Advent stirs in the hearts of God’s people. It is the hope that not only proclaims the welcome we have received from Christ but also ventures forth to welcome others ‘by the power of the Holy Spirit’” (16).

Finally, in the Gospel Lection we encounter the enigmatic figure of John the Baptist, who preaches a message of repentance tied to confession of sin and baptism with water as a sign of that repentance (cf. TFP 17). Whatever the people expected, John preaches of a God who cares about personal and social morality and demands accountability. This can be good news to people who live in a world that is morally uncertain, oppressive, and meaningless in which there is little hope for accountability or justice for the powers that be. But John does more than just call for true repentance, he also points beyond himself to one who is greater than he, who blows with the breath Spirit (Greek: πνεῦμα/pneuma = breath, wind, spirit) and baptizes with the Spirit, able to judge (by the Spirit) and divide the wheat from the chaff. Here we see that John prophesies that Jesus will be exactly the sort of ruler that Isaiah prophecies will come from the stump of Jesse.