FIRST READING Isaiah 11:1-10
On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea. On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.
SECOND READING Romans 15:4-9
Brothers and sisters: Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I say that Christ became a minister of the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises to the patriarchs, but so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing praises to your name.
Gospel Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
My sisters and brothers in the Lord,
Isaiah the Prophet tells us today: “the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.” So often the words of this Prophet speak of joy and of the coming of the Lord. This Prophet also speak about the fire that will come as well to purify us. Advent is a time of preparation, of purification, so that we may rejoice even more in the coming of the Lord.
The second reading today is from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Listen to this attentively: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is also about purification. How difficult it is for us who follow Jesus to think in harmony with one another! In the history of the Church this challenge comes up over and over. Always there seem to be groups that head off in one direction or the other. Each group claims that it has the truth and that the rest don’t have it.
For us Catholics, if we are truly Catholic, we accept the teaching authority of the Church and the role of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. This does not give us complete harmony, for sure, but gives us a clear guiding light. Yet it takes humility and purification to accept an authority outside of ourselves. Over and over in Advent we will hear of those who do not accept the way of God in the Old Testament: “He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.” And we will hear of the challenges of the early Christians. All of this can help us long for the coming of the Lord!
Matthew’s Gospel today focuses on the role of Saint John the Baptist: to proclaim repentance and to prepare the way of the Lord. Much of modern culture no longer accepts any notion of sin, other than thinking differently from the dominant way of thinking, or thinking differently from one’s “group.” Modern culture does not seem to encourage thinking for oneself and even less believing in something that might make demands on us to change our lives.
Many people today will not accept that the evils in our world are brought about by choosing wrongly to follow false gods. We prefer to believe that the evils are brought about by people thinking differently than we think. John the Baptist would have a great challenge today telling people that they must repent. Hopefully we who are trying to follow Christ are able to admit our sinfulness and seek to follow the teachings of our Master.
As we continue in Advent, God calls us to deeper repentance and purification—not for any other reason than that we can love Him more. Come, Lord Jesus.
Your brother in the Lord,
Abbot Emeritus Philip