Sunday Scriptures — Advent A 2, Dec. 4, 2016

This Sunday introduces John the Baptist as part of a set of readings which can be linked by the theme of the Messianic Age. There is still no focus on the birth of Christ yet.
The first reading — Isaiah 11:1-10 — has three parts. We begin with a description of the Messiah. He will be a descendant of King David. (Jesse was David’s father.) The Spirit of God will enable him to bring true justice, upholding the poor and afflicted and overcoming the wicked. Then there is an image of harmony among all creatures, often depicted with the title “The Peaceable Kingdom,” in which predators cease preying and live in peace with animals they now attack. There are videos which show instances of this sort of behavior, usually among members of different species who were raised together. As a priest I know says, they show us how it was supposed to be. The prophet says that is how it will be. The final section of the reading adds that the Messiah will draw all the nations to himself.
The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 72 — has us reflect on the Messiah as the one who brings everlasting justice and peace to all the people of the world.
In the second reading — Romans 15:4-9 — after reminding his hearers of the ongoing value of the scriptures of Israel, Paul exhorts them (us) “to think in harmony with one another.” The community is to be welcoming, both in general and particular toward the Gentiles (who are attracted, as Isaiah prophesied), just as Jesus welcomed them (us) into his community. There must not be classes of people whom we consider unwelcome. If, in answer to the call of God, they wish to join us, they must be welcomed.
The gospel — Matthew 3:1-12 — introduces John the Baptist. He prepares the people to receive the Lord, in fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3. He calls people to repent of their sins, and being baptized signifies that repentance. But his strong words to the Pharisees and Pharisees make it clear that true repentance involves not just words, but actions: a changed life. He uses agricultural metaphors — good fruit, trees, wheat, and chaff — to illustrate the point about good deeds and evil ones, about doers of good and evildoers. He makes the further point that descent from Abraham — being part of the Jewishness — is not enough. The metaphor of God raising descendants of Abraham from the stones recalls the call of the Gentiles referred to in the first two readings and the psalm. We should apply it also to ourselves: membership in the Church doesn’t make us part of the Messianic community. There is a life to be lived, and if we don’t live it perfectly, we need to be repentant for our failures.
Although we believe that the Messiah has come in the person of Jesus, and elements of the Messianic Age have come when he healed the blind, the deaf, and the lame, as well as the spread of the gospel among the Gentiles. Clearly the complete fulfillment of the promises is yet to come, with his return in glory. Meanwhile, we live as members of his kingdom, behaving in a way that extends is justice and peace in the ways we can in our particular circumstances and opportunities.

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