Sunday Readings: Isaiah 11.1-10; Romans 15.4-9; Matthew 3.1-12
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, the reign of God is at hand.” It was of John that the prophet Isaiah had spoken. “A herald’s voice in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Holy One, make straight God’s paths’” (Matthew 3.1-3).
The Baptist attracted crowds with his fierce preaching, calling all who come to repent and turn toward God. The Baptist challenges the sincerity of some who seek his baptism of repentance, comparing them to a brood of vipers and trees that bear no fruit. John warns he is preparing them for someone more powerful who will come with a winnowing fan in hand to separate grain from chaff.
Every Advent we hear the Baptist calling us to shape up, to prepare a way in our hearts for God’s coming. The Baptist echoes the prophet Second Isaiah, whose preaching called the captive Israelites home from exile in Babylon to rebuild a destroyed Jerusalem. God is in action, making a way.
An earlier prophet Isaiah, a priest in the Jerusalem temple, speaks in Sunday’s first reading, insisting God will not forsake Israel. The family tree of King David and his father Jesse will sprout again. God will send a leader filled with the gifts of the Spirit, the same seven gifts Christians receive in confirmation—wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and awe at who God is. This king will not serve other gods or go to war but act with justice and seek peace. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard with the kid.
So how are we to use our gifts of the Spirit today? Isaiah’s vision of a peaceable kin*dom challenges us to put our gifts into action, to learn about opposing positions, to understand and value where others come form, to speak from our experience, and listen to the perceptions of others. These are peace-building, community-building skills.
What characterizes the Christianity you inherit from your family? What do you wish to nurture more?