Weekly Liturgy booklets
Isa 11:1-10 • Ps 72:1-7, 18-19 • Rom 15:4-13 • Mt 3:1-12
The collect asks the One who sent messengers, such Isaiah and John the Baptist, to make us heed their message. This collect is from the 1662 Prayer Book by way of a revision by the Church of South India.
Like the Isaiah passage read on Christmas Eve (“the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light....”), today’s looks for an idealized king, a descendant of King David, the son of Jesse. Upon this wise king will rest the Spirit of God. Isaiah’s list of the Spirit’s six gifts was expand-d to seven gifts by Greek translators of the original, hence the traditional sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit. Also from Isaiah’s vision comes the often-painted picture of the Peaceable Kingdom, Eden revived.
“Him shall the nations seek, and his dwelling shall be glorious,” closes the Isaiah reading. Taking up Isaiah’s vision of the perfect king, Psalm 72 says his unending rule will stretch “from sea to sea,” and will be characterized by justice, prosperity, and righteousness. Furthermore, v. 11: “All kings shall bow down before him; and all the nations do him service,” a prediction that Paul will argue in today’s epistle, was fulfilled in Christ’s welcoming Gentiles into his kingdom. At that king’s accession, peace will be established “from the River [Euphrates] to the earth’s end,” a promise still longed for. Because of its reference to Gentile kings bringing gifts, the entire Psalm 72 will be sung at the Epiphany.
When Paul says “the Scriptures” he means the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. In today’s epistle Paul cites today’s Isaiah reading and Deuteronomy and two psalms (not Ps 72, but ones with similar verses), to support his argument that Christ came to keep God’s intention that Gentiles be included in the Covenant. Writing to a partly-Gentile audience, Paul prays that by the Spirit they may “abound in hope” on this account.
Isaiah and psalmists were messengers. The preeminent messenger was John the Baptist, who had nothing but bad to say about his king, Herod Antipas. Gospels for the second and third Sundays of Advent feature John. Coming out of the harsh region where Israelite religion began and costumed like an antique seer, John cites Isaiah to warn Jewish leaders that their reliance on their Abrahamic pedigrees is insufficient. Although he does not mention Gentiles, John’s critique of official Judaism could clear ground for Paul’s later advocacy of Gentiles’ inclusion. As Paul will later argue, John here argues that repentance is the necessary requisite for entry into the kingdom of the One who baptizes with the Spirit, the One who is himself anointed by the Spirit, as John is about to see when he baptizes Jesus.
Rev. Stephen Weissman
Asheville, North Carolina
Reprinted with permission.
December 4th, 2022