He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:11
He shall bring justice for the afflicted; the earth shall overflow with the knowledge of the LORD (Isaiah 11:1-10).
This reading begins, “On that day.” For Isaiah, this refers to the coming of the Davidic Messiah, made clear by the reference to the “stump of Jesse.” David was the son of Second Sunday of Advent. At the time of Isaiah, the Davidic line was on the throne of the kingdom of Judah, but those following the righteous king Jotham were corrupt. Isaiah’s prophecy suggests that at some future point, a king will come forth; not from the family now on the throne, but from the root of the family tree. That prophecy is fulfilled when the Messiah is born in Bethlehem, the ancestral place of Jesse. His reign will result in a return to a paradisiacal state of peace.
It’s important to recognize that the catalyst for this return is that “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the LORD.” This might remind us of that first paradise of Eden, whose inhabitants chose the knowledge of good and evil over the knowledge of God. All those who teach the faith can be confident that passing on the knowledge of the Lord that they’ve received contributes to this eventual return to paradise.
Glorify God by living in harmony with one another, welcoming each other as Christ welcomed you (Romans 15:4-9).
In this reading, Paul concerns himself primarily with the Scriptures; the written portion of Revelation. Specifically here, he refers to the Old Testament when he says that we (the Romans and Christians of every age) should derive “hope” and “encouragement” from what we find in Scripture. He says to accept one another, likely in reference to some tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians. The conclusion he draws from what is revealed in Scripture is that Christ served the Jewish people as their Messiah, in faithfulness to the promises made by God through the prophets. He has also saved the Gentiles as their Christ, so that they might bear witness to God’s mercy to those beyond the covenant with Israel.
Just two verses after this reading, St. Paul cites a line from our first reading from Isaiah, which prophesies that the root of Jesse will be sought out by the Gentiles, as proof that the revealed plan of God is to bring all nations into unity under the headship of Christ, the Messiah of the Jews. Today, we still live in this age of mercy to the Gentiles; we will celebrate this mercy Incarnate in the baby born in Bethlehem.
Produce good fruit worthy of your baptism; repent, for the reign of God is near (Matthew 3:1-12).
John the Baptist is the man who stands at the seam of the Old Testament and the New. St. Augustine teaches that John’s birth to elderly parents (Elizabeth and Zechariah) represents the antiquity of Israel, and that his leaping for joy while still in his mother’s womb at the Visitation of Mary suggests the newness of his coming prophetic proclamation.
In his appearance and actions, John sums up the whole of the Old Testament. His clothing is the same as Elijah’s, the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. He calls Israel out into the desert for purification as Moses did, and prepares the people to be led into the new Promised Land by the new Joshua (Yeshua=Jesus). His diet consists of locusts, which are symbolic of pestilence, and honey, which is the food of the Promised Land.
John the Baptist’s most prominent virtue is humility. “I am not worthy to carry his sandals,” he says of Our Lord. Carrying one’s sandals at this time would be the work of a slave—and John sees himself as unworthy of even that office! If we’re to prepare ourselves and others for the coming of the great King this Advent, then we should first turn our attention to our need for a humility like that of St. John the Baptist, the first herald of Christ.
In today’s Gospel, we are exhorted to examine our lives and repent of our sins in preparation for the coming of the Lord. Let us take some time now to reflect on how we might ready ourselves this week for his coming.
Imagine that you are standing on the banks of the Jordan River listening to John the Baptist. You hear him say, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” What do you think as you hear those words? What areas of your life come to mind where you might not be bearing good fruit?
What is one thing—one “good fruit”—that you could do this week that would show your sincere desire to repent? Make a commitment to act on this thought by writing down a specific action you can do and a time you can do it.
Have you planned on a day to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) during the season of Advent? See page 7 for Confession opportunities.
For further reflection, watch the accompanying video lecture available free at Formed.org.
Reflection by Opening the Word and reprinted with the permission of Augustine Institute.