The promise of the Spirit
Watching for the Morning of December 4, 2016
The Second Sunday of Advent
As always, the second Sunday in Advent takes us to the Jordan River and the fiery preaching of John the Baptist. He is the wild man, the challenger of the social order, the prophet who walks away from life in the land and calls the nation out into the wilderness. “We must begin again,” he says. “We must start over from the beginning when God first led us from the wilderness through the Jordan into the Promised Land.” “Repent,” he says, “choose again the God of the exodus and Sinai, the God who gives manna in the wilderness and calls us to lives of justice and mercy.” The urgency of that call is shaped by the promise that the long awaited one is near, the one who is greater, whose sandals he is not worthy to touch, who washes us in the Spirit and fire.
Is it the fire of judgment or the fire of passion? Is it the fire that rained down destruction on wicked Sodom and corrupt Gomorrah or is it the fire of God’s presence as at Sinai? Is this thunderbolts or the fire and Spirit of Pentecost? The sound of the ax can be heard. The old order, the fruitless tree, is coming down. Now is the time for allegiance. Now is the time for fidelity. Now is the time for all the world to be aflood with the Spirit.
The fiery preaching of John awaits us on Sunday – but now it is wrapped in blue. It is folded into the season of hope. The coming of the Spirit is not threat but gift, filled with the promise of a world under new management, a world governed by the breath of God, a world we have seen in the mercy of Jesus and the end of death’s dominion.
And so, on Sunday, we will hear the promise of a shoot from the stump of Jesse. The fallen royal line, named from David’s father, shall bloom again. The Spirit will be upon him and, under his reign, “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
We will hear Paul pray that “the God of hope” may fill the Christian community in Rome “with all joy and peace in believing,” so that they may “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”
And we will recognize in John the Baptizer the one promised in Isaiah: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’”
And we will await the fire.
The Prayer for December 4, 2016
Gracious God, who called forth the first morning of the world
and brings all things to their final end when all night is vanquished,
make us ever mindful of our journey homeward
and wash us in the fire of your Spirit,
that the reign of Christ might dawn among us;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
The Texts for December 4, 2016
First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” – like new growth from the stump of a felled tree, a new king shall arise from the fallen line of David, a king filled with the Spirit of God, who will govern in righteousness and bring all creation to peace.
Psalmody: Luke 1:68-79 (The Benedictus)
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” – In place of the appointed Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, we sing the song of Zechariah, sung at the birth of his son, John, whom we know as John the Baptist, praising God and predicting his role as the one who “will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.”
Second Reading: Romans 15:4-13
“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” – Speaking to that fundamental divide between observant Judeans and those who had become thoroughly enmeshed in the culture of the Greek world, between ‘Jew’ and ‘Gentile’, Paul calls for the believers to live the reconciliation that has occurred in Christ, giving multiple examples from the Scriptures in support of God’s mission to gather all nations.
Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12
“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” – John comes as a prophet of old, heralding the dawning of God’s reign and calling all people to ‘repent’, to turn and show allegiance to God.