Isaiah 11, 1-10
- A shoot – shall sprout – from the stump of Jesse. The prophet begins very simply, with such a tiny detail about one more damaged tree
we might give up for dead. I can point out with a patient voice just how tiny. In a thick forest we would walk by the resurgence of life without noticing. But there is life yet in this stump! And soon enough, in God’s
time, we will see it.
- The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. No trumpets herald his approach, but we will know his appearance
among us by these spiritual gifts. Let me say each one as part of an integral
package that the divine counselor must have.
- Not by appearance… He shall judge the poor with justice. Here is another sign of God’s
chosen one. I think of all the flowery nominating speeches I have heard with
their overblown promises, and ask if I can muster up even more enthusiasm in the presence of the real thing.
- He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth. I can speak the whole sentence as if the mere saying of it carries out what it claims
to do. “Striking” is a violent action, and I want my reading to sound
- Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb… The prophet expresses our own hopes so tenderly.
If this is what I hope for, then let me say so. Each promise is more daring,
more outlandish, until The child shall lay his hand on the adder’s lair. How is it possible? I listen to the answer:
The earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord.
- I don’t have to display so much energy as I read, because the words themselves evoke their own
energy. But I need to be proud of the words, proud of the people who preserved
the prophet’s words and celebrated them.
- Climax: With a little
child to guide them. I remember Jesus’ invitation to accept the kingdom
“as a little child.”
- Message for our assembly: Do we contribute with our actions
to hospitality, to breaking down animosity?
- I will challenge myself: To show how proud I am of
these promises, and how much I enjoy recalling them in public.
Romans 15, 4-9
- The apostle is not celebrating Advent as we are. He wrote this letter
to a church whom he did not found and who may not think exactly as he does. That
is why he asks them to think in harmony with one another… that with one accord you may with one voice glorify God.
- The God of endurance and encouragement. Of all the divine attributes, the apostle mentions these two. He
said in another letter that God’s love is “encouraging and enduring.”
- But he is celebrating the gift of Christ, and so are we at this time. Welcome one another as Christ welcomed you.
- A minister of the circumcised, to confirm the promises. It is no accident that God first sought
out the people of the Law.
- But so that the Gentiles – meaning you and me –
might glorify God for his mercy. In
a sense, God gave us too an opening, a chance to join them. God does not act
in exclusivist terms, though we may at times get that impression.
- Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles. He is quoting a psalm, so I can use a more lyrical voice as I say the verse.
- Climax: We might have hope. Here
is our Advent connection.
- The message for our assembly: Do we hog Christ all for ourselves, or are we happy to share him with the world, valuing
the different ways they celebrate him?
- I will challenge myself: To read as inclusively as I can,
encouraging the church to recall its welcoming instinct.
Matthew 3, 1-12
- In those days John the Baptist appeared. He always appears on this Sunday.
- You brood of vipers!
Matthew narrates only the words and actions of John, and they are defiant and judgmental enough. The words addressed to the visiting officials were probably shouted from a distance. I am going to lift my voice a little to simulate the distance between the Baptist and these hostile emissaries.
- I will also heighten the tension between John and his visitors, who are coming to his baptism not out of repentance but out of a search for impropriety and error. The tension reaches a climax when he dismisses their self-importance out of hand. God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
- Even now the axe lies at the root of the trees. I see here the threatening words that the Baptist might have delivered to the people at close hand. My voice will change to reflect the audience nearby.
And as I look on the assembly I will not stare at anyone in particular.
- One climax: They were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged
- Another climax: He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. We look forward to the coming of Jesus, just as John urges us to do.
- Message for our assembly: Where do we place ourselves? “Going out
to him” with the common people, or “coming to his baptism” with the uncommitted onlookers?
- I will challenge myself: To give a sense of the apocalyptical language of the Baptist without overdoing
From Word to Eucharist: As
at the Jordan, we form a procession of
the unworthy, repenting and asking forgiveness of God and each other. As with
Peter after his denial, a longing not for the recovery of our lost self-worth but for the gain of our wiser return. See our resolve, Lord. Test our communion in you, Lord.