The Collect of the Day
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
“The stump of Jesse” refers to the dynastic line of David (Jesse was David’s father). It has become a stump, of little worth, bordering on death. The prophet sees a shoot from the stump, however, and, perhaps more importantly, the spirit of the Lord. They indicate a new possibility. The shoot will yield a new king who will be an advocate of justice and a bringer of peace, even to enemies within the creation. The new king will restore and reconcile creation itself. Can we still trust this promise, this spirit, this vision of a new creation? It is a significant question on our Advent journey. Verses 2 & 3 include the traditional sevenfold gifts of the Spirit, still used in our liturgy of Baptism in the prayer over the newly baptized (BCP. P. 308).
11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Psalm 72 is royal psalm ascribed to Solomon (one of only two psalms ascribed to him, the other being Psalm 127). It places the Davidic line of kings firmly into both the theology and socio-economic life of Israel. The first portion of the psalm (vv. 1-7) lays out the covenant demands of the king. The portion we do not read today lays out the divine promises to a just ruler. Verses 18 & 19 are actually an ending to the second book of the psalms (Psalms 42-72), and indeed in Hebrew the text goes on to a “verse 20”: “The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.”
1 Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King’s Son;
2 That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;
3 That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.
4 He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
5 He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.
7 In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall
be no more.
18 Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, *
who alone does wondrous deeds!
19 And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! *
and may all the earth be filled with his glory. Amen. Amen.
The Second Reading: Romans 15:4-13
At the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul gives a word of encouragement, but also an exhortation to radical welcome in the community of faith. The welcome includes the Gentiles (non-Jews), who are now fellow heirs of God’s promises with the Jews. All have cause to “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” This is the good news we have to proclaim. The Scripture quotations are, in order, from Psalm 18:49, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10.
15:4 Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; 10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12 and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12
On the 2nd & 3rd Sundays of Advent in each year of our three-year cycle of readings, we read about John the Baptist. Who was John and what was his role in the unfolding drama? John prepares the way, and it is a radical way. Everything about John is radical—his dress, his diet, his message. It is a dangerous message as well, challenging the religious elite not to be presumptuous about their relationship with God. Claiming relationship with Abraham is not enough. They (and we) must “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Advent suggests to us that there may be some way in which we need to “turn around” (the literal meaning of repentance) so that we can see the child in the manger for what he truly is. The Scripture quotation in verse 3 is Isaiah 40:3.
3:1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The Scripture quotations (except for the canticle) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Collect and the translation of the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2016, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved.