Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Dec. 8, 2019
First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
Repent! In our Advent readings this SundayListen to a bold call to repent and await the Messiah. But don’t think of repentance in its modern idea of deep regret and remorse.
Hear it rather in its ancient sense, as “change one’s mind” in New Testament Greek, or “turn back” in Old Testament Hebrew. If we are on the wrong path in our relationships with God and our neighbors, now is the time to turn back and watch for the light of God’s Kingdom. In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah envisions a time when the Messiah, the descendant of King David (whose father was named Jesse), will reign from Zion’s Holy Mountain. The lion and the lamb will lie down together, peace will reign, and the poor will receive justice.
Psalm: Psalm 72
Sunday’s Psalm – perhaps originally intended to be sung at a royal coronation – offers support and counterpoint to the Isaiah reading. Subtitled “Prayer for Guidance and Support for the King” in our New Revised Standard Edition, it hammers home the Hebrew Bible’s consistent call for justice and righteousness for all the people, including the poor, the needy and the oppressed. Jesus surely knew these verses, too, and proclaimed them in his commands to love our neighbors, shun riches, and bring good news to the poor.
Second Reading: Romans 15:4-13
Paul wrote this letter at a time when all of Rome’s Jews, who had been banished to exile for a decade by the Emperor Claudius, were finally able to come back home after the emperor died. But there was tension in the young church as returning Jewish Christians rejoined Christian communities that had become entirely Gentile. Paul turns to the Isaiah passage that we heard in the first reading, and calls attention to the Root of Jesse, Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah coming as king over all humanity.
Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12
In this Gospel reading we encounter John, the cousin of Jesus. John has become – as his father, the temple priest Zechariah, had foreseen in the canticle we sang two Sundays past – a great prophet in the spirit of Isaiah and Jeremiah. John is a loud and angry prophet indeed, dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey. He insults the Pharisees and Sadducees as “a brood of vipers,” and calls on the people to be baptized in the Jordan river as a sign of repentance from sin. John, too, invokes the Prophet Isaiah as he declares himself the prophet who Isaiah said would cry out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. John says that while he baptizes with water, the coming Messiah will throw away the old traditions and baptize not with mere water but the fire of the Holy Spirit.
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St. Matthew’s Episcopal is following Track One in 2019.