Sunday, December 8, 2019
2nd Sunday of Advent
Liturgical Color: Violet
First reading: Isaiah 11:1–10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 72:1–2, 7–8, 12–13, 17
Second reading: Romans 15:4–9
Gospel: Matthew 3:1–12
An idyllic description of messianic times. Not only will mankind’s original status be restored, but through the forgiveness of sins, it will be surpassed. And not only will mankind be glorified, but all of creation will also be restored. The wolf dwelling peacefully with the lamb and the lion eating straw like the ox are not imaginary pictures, but the actuality of a return to the original order of creation, before Adam and Eve sought to be “like gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The little child (verses 6 and 8) is an ordinary human child, an example of how restored mankind is to have dominion over restored creation (compare Genesis 1:26).
The first part is a formal announcement of the accession of a new king in the line of David — humble, because he comes from a tree that has been pruned yet has all the vitality of a tender shoot. It refers to a future king (“there shall come…”) and not the reigning monarch. The new king will be endowed with exceptional qualities that equip him to rule, thanks to the Holy Spirit who will descend upon him. – Navarre Bible Commentary
This new king (let us recall that just two weeks ago we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King) is not like ordinary kings, but rules eternally by the gentle touch of the Holy Spirit. This passage in Isaiah (verses 2 and 3) is the biblical source of the Church’s list of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. – list from Baltimore Catechism, 1941 edition, Lesson 10
The second part describes very beautifully the messianic peace that will flower with this new “shoot.” It paints a panorama of the harmony that reigned at the dawn of creation, only to be broken by sin. Even among wild beasts violence will disappear. No longer will man in his pride desire to be “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5); instead he will be filled with the divine gift of the “knowledge of the Lord” (verse 9). The “child,” mentioned twice (verses 6, 8) is not directly connected with the child-king of the oracle found in Isaiah 9:6 or with the Immanuel (7:14); however, in the mind of the prophet, they must have had many points of contact, given the reference to the child having a leadership role (verse 6). – Navarre Bible Commentary
All of this restoration (forgiveness) and glorification is due to the sacrifice made by the Messiah on Calvary. The oracle therefore does not speak directly of Jesus, but of the results of the sacrifice he made. “By the fruit of the root [of Jesse = David’s Son Jesus of Nazareth; see verse 1] he will graft us onto his tree.” – St. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity 3.17.
In our first reading, the hope of restoration was cast in the future; in the second reading, it is placed in the present. St. Paul speaks of steadfastness and encouragement, so that we may have harmony and unity between all who believe in Jesus Christ and give thanks to the Father. We are to welcome one another in the same way that Christ welcomed us.
The Messiah’s ministry to the chosen people is a ministry of fulfillment. The many pledges that God made to the people of Israel have been carried out in the Messiah, from the exaltation of David’s royal heir (Romans 1:3–4) to the circumcision of the heart (2:28–29) to the justification of believers (4:1–12) to the outpouring of the Spirit (8:1–17) to the restoration of the exiled tribes among the nations (chapters 9–11), all are being realized through Jesus Christ in the New Covenant. The Gentiles, too, are beneficiaries of the blessings promised to Israel, thanks to the welcoming grace of Christ, who brings glory to God by leading all nations in a chorus of praise to the heavenly Father. – Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture
The dominant term in this passage is obedience in hope. Through hope, we receive encouragement in the truth and in our fellowship with one another. Yes, we have to endure hardships and opposition, but in this way, we glorify God, as the Apostles tell us in many biblical passages. Our unity as Christians provides us the support we need to complete the race, showing that our strength lies, not in ourselves, but in God and his Son, Jesus Christ. Thus the first and second readings are linked.
The Jordan River was the scene of many significant biblical events, such as the cure of Naaman’s leprosy (2 Kings 5:1–14) and the prophet Elijah being taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:1–11). Prior to these miraculous events, in the days of Joshua, the successor to Moses, God stopped the river’s flow for a day to allow the Israelites to cross it as they emerged, after 40 years in the desert, to claim their Promised Land. Then, in the fullness of time, John the Baptist came to the shores of the Jordan to preach repentance to the denizens of Jerusalem and the surrounding area.
In calling the people to journey into the wilderness to step into the Jordan River to be baptized, and to reenter the promised land, John was summoning them to re-enact the Exodus story [the crossing of the Red Sea, the entry into the Promised Land]. Such an action was most likely intended to signal that a new Exodus [that of Christ in Luke 9:30–31] was finally about to occur. No wonder so many people from “Jerusalem, all Judea and the whole region around the Jordan” (Matthew 3:5) went out to the Jordan wilderness to be baptized by John. – Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture
Jewish tradition spoke of the return of the prophet Elijah to herald the arrival of the Messiah. Now they see the prophet John, dressed after the fashion of Elijah, and his prophetic message is the same as Elijah’s: “Repent!” Not only this, John calls upon the people to offer their repentance to God by receiving a baptism of repentance, recalling Naaman dipping himself seven times in the Jordan to cure his leprosy. Now, in the Bible, the image of leprosy is often used as a symbol of sin, and John speaks to this: “I baptize you with water for repentance [of your sins], but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The Holy Spirit is symbolized by fire, as the “tongues of fire” that attended his descent over the disciples in the upper room at Pentecost (Acts 2:3). Here he reveals what the arrival of the Messiah is all about.
The leaders of the people — the Pharisees and the Sadducees — John singles out as the sinful examples leading the people astray. They do not receive his baptism, but merely “come to his baptism” as spectators and “inspectors” of this so-called prophet. That is why John styles them a “brood of vipers.” He then warns them of the tribulation and judgment that are coming for those who refuse to change their ways. Their retort seems to be something like, “We don’t have any sins to repent of; we’re not murderers or bandits. And we don’t need your silly home-grown baptism. After all, we have a pedigree that goes all the way back to Abraham.” John’s reply is simple: “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” In other words, their “pedigree” is worthless in God’s sight without the obedience that John is preaching. And their lack of repentance (never mind the baptism) will carry them straight to hell, because the Messiah is on his way here as we speak! He is the one who will offer a truly effective baptism, with divine forgiveness of sins, provided the person receiving it is truly repentant.
So what have we learned? First, that God is a kindly father to those who are docile enough to obey him as his children. For “Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” But he will brook no fools such as these Pharisees, who have no understanding of the will of God. Due to the pride they take in their heritage, they think they are above demonstrating the humility of the divine King who is coming to judge them. As we have seen in the first reading, God will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.” Indeed, “has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” – 1 Samuel 15:22