2nd Sunday of Advent – Year A (December 8th)
Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
During this time of Advent or “Coming”, our task is to look out for the arrival of the One who is expected; and that also means that we are going to have to respond in an appropriate way.
The first reading for next Sunday looks for a “Coming One”, who will “come forth, a shoot from the stump of Jesse”. The context into which Isaiah is prophesying is that of the recent defeat of the Assyrians; this new leader, however, is not to be a military leader, but “the Spirit of the Lord is to rest upon him”, and that “spirit” is one of “wisdom and perception…counsel and strength…knowledge and fear of the Lord”, not to mention “justice…and integrity”. Given all that, though, the world which this Messiah will bring into being is going to be a remarkably different place: “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid”. There follows a lovely vision of the co-existence of all creation: calf and young lion, cow and bear, and even young humans playing (against all the rules of Health and Safety) with cobras. And why is this? Because in the time of this “Coming”, “the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord”. So our response matters as well as what God is going to do.
The psalm for next week is a “coronation psalm”, and it is not just simple-minded praise for the virtues of the new monarch. He is firmly reminded that he has to be “just”, in other words to do what God wants him to do. That is the point of saying “your judgement to the king, your justice to the king’s son”, and continuing, “Let him judge your people with justice”. The one who comes has a responsibility to God and to the people of God, one that he must take seriously. The psalmist prays that “justice may flourish in his days, and abundance of peace”, and this comes before a prayer for the size of his empire: “may he rule from Sea to Sea, from the River to the ends of the earth” (an immense extent). Then, however, he has to be reminded of his need to look after the “poor and needy”; and only after he has been reminded of all this do we hear the prayer, “May his name be blessed for ever”.
The second reading reminds the Romans (delicately, for he does not know them, and they have misgivings about him), of their need to “think the same thing among yourselves, in line with Christ Jesus” and to “give each other hospitality”. That is to be their response to the Coming One.
In the gospel for next Sunday, we hear the message of John the Baptist, that (in the Coming One) “the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near”, and so they must “repent” (or “turn it round”). We hear, perhaps with some alarm, of John’s prophetic authentication (by Isaiah) and his prophetic clothing (camel-hair and leather girdle), and his message to fellow-Jews, that “the axe is laid to the root of the trees”, and that they are in danger of being “cut down and thrown into the fire”. The Coming One, it turns out is “mightier than [John]”, is going to baptise “with the Holy Spirit and with fire”, and is going to “destroy the chaff, and gather his wheat – and he will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire”. If we are calmly thinking to ourselves that we can be quite comfortable in this time of Coming, we may have to take another look at reality. The Coming One is indeed on his way, but we are going to have to make our response. What is your response going to be, this week?