Sunday: Second Sunday of Advent Date: December 8, 2013. Year: A The readings: [Is. 11:1-10; Rom. 15:4-9; Mt. 3:1-12] The message: Prepare the way of the Lord. Prepared by: Catholic Doors Ministry. Total words: 2258
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Welcome my brothers and sisters in Christ to today's celebration of the Second Sunday of Advent. As we continue to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ during the Advent Season, we are told to "Prepare the way of the Lord, (to) make his paths straight." [Mt. 3:3]
Last Sunday, we learned that Advent serves the purpose of preparing us for the coming of the Lord as the Judge, either at death or at the end of this world, whichever may come first. It also taught us to prepare ourselves to receive the Real Physical Presence of our Redeemer through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. And it taught us to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christmas, the birthday anniversary of the Lord's coming into this world as God incarnate. Consequently, it can be said that while the reign of God is at hand, it is already here, but not yet fully.
Today's First Reading from the Book of Isaiah [Is. 11:1-10] consisted of a descriptive prophecy related to the coming of the ideal king from David's line. It began by proclaiming that "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." [Is. 11:1] Jesse was the father of king David, from whom the Judean kings descended.
The Gospel of Matthew affirms that Jesus was the King referred to, He being of the root of Jesse who was the father of David. [Mt. 1:5-6; Rev. 5:5, 22:16]
Regarding the King to come, Our Lord Jesus Christ, it was said that "The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge..." [Is. 11:2] The Spirit of the Lord is the Holy Spirit, the life-giving breath that comes from Yahweh. It is the same Spirit who endows men with the gifts of extraordinary power, wisdom, understanding, counsel, might and knowledge.
At His final coming, the Lord "shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked." [Is. 11;3- 4]
When the Divine judgments arrive, they shall be as severe as a chastising rod and a hot lethal breath. "And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of His mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of His coming." [2 Thess. 2:8]
At that time, "Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins." [Is. 11:5] The belt, also known as the "girdle," was a loincloth that was worn next to the body. In the prophecy of Isaiah, it was foretold that the King to come, Our Lord Jesus, would wear the symbolic garments of righteousness and faithfulness close to His body.
The aforementioned words remind us of the words of Saint Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians. "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." [Eph. 6:10- 17]
And especially now in the Advent Season, we should "Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end (we should) keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints." [Eph. 6:18]
When Isaiah said, "The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them..." [Is. 11:6] he was providing a picture of a Messianic era when paradise would be restored. This era, partially fulfilled through Jesus Christ, is approaching its final day when the coming of Christ shall be upon us.
While we cannot see the spiritual Kingdom of God that has come on earth as it is in Heaven, we believe that through the Sacrament of Baptism, we have been admitted into the spiritual Kingdom of God on earth, the mystical Body of Christ to which the Catholic Church is united as the visible image of the invisible. We also believe that our participation in the celebration of the Holy Mass through which we receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is our participation in a great spiritual Feast in the Real Presence of Jesus, His mother, the saints and all the angels.
The First Reading ended by saying that "On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious." [Is. 11:10] What is that day? Was it in the past? Is it now? Or is it in the future? "On that day" is a reference to the past and to the present. It is a reference to the hope of the gentiles in Jesus. [Rom 15:12]
"Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope." [Rom. 15:4] The Words of God that were written in former days in the Holy Scriptures, they give us Christians a basis for our hope in Jesus Christ.
What was written in former days was in the hope that we too may live in harmony with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together we may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Rom. 15:5-6] We are to be united! We are to welcome one another, just as Jesus has welcomed us, for the glory of God. [Rom. 5:7] As all the activities of Jesus were for the glory of God, [Phil. 1:11, 2:11] and continue to be so to this day, we too are called to glorify God in all things, day and night, here and there, in all our thoughts, all our words and all our actions.
Today's Second Reading teaches us that "... Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy." [Rom. 15:8-9]
To fulfill the promises of God the Father to the patriarchs, Jesus had to be born as a Jewish citizen and He had to minister to the Jewish nation. But, while this is so, the promises of God are to be shared by both, the Jewish people [Ps. 18:50] and we the gentiles. [2 Sam. 22:50] Despite our ethnic background, as Saint Paul tells us, the Christian community is called to be united as one.
"As it is written, 'Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name.'" [Rom. 15:9] At the incarnation of God, the world sang praises to His Most Holy Name. Since the days of the glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the world has been singing praises to His Most Holy Name. At His glorious coming, the world will sing praises to His Name. And finally, throughout the days of the eternal Kingdom that awaits those who persevere in their living faith, the children of God shall sing endless praises to His Most Holy Name.
Accordingly, we must "Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight." [Mt. 3:3] Today's Reading from the Gospel of Matthew [Mt. 3:1-12] began by telling us that Saint John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance in the wilderness of Judea. In the desert of Judea, there is a steep slope that falls from the central ridge of the country to the valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. According to Catholic tradition that has been handed down, when reference is made to baptism in the Jordan, it indicates that St. John the Baptism preached near the river, most likely not far from Jericho.
John's message was one of repentance in preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven that was at hand. It is the same message that Jesus proclaimed when He began His ministry in Galilee. "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near." [Mt. 4:17]
When the great prophet Isaiah prophesied a forerunner who would be crying out in the wilderness, he was clearly making reference to John the Baptist. [Mt. 4:3] The introduction of John the Baptist in the Gospel of Matthew is quite abrupt, lacking details as to who he was. The reason for this is because John was a well-known figure in the early days of the Christian community. There was no need for any lengthy introduction. This is affirmed in Chapter 19, verses 1 to 5 of the Acts of the Apostles. There, we read that when Paul passed through Ephesus, he came across John's followers who were promoting the baptism of repentance. They had never heard of Baptism in the Name of the Lord Jesus.
If St. John were here today, he would have no problem preparing himself during the Advent Season. To him, prayer and fasting was part of his life. In his days, there was no fast food hamburgers, high class restaurants, or 11 course meals. In humility, John wore a garment of camel's hair that was held together by a belt around his waist. His food consisted of locusts and wild honey. Surely, if he was here today, he would put us to shame by the way we live.
John the Baptist's lifestyle was similar to the prophet Elijah. In 2 Kings 1:7-8, we read, "'What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?' They answered him, 'A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.' He said, 'It is Elijah the Tishbite.'"
Before Jesus cames into the world, it was prophesied that prior to the arrival of the Messiah, Elijah would return. [Mt. 11:14] As with many other prophesies, this was a symbolic prophecy. Yet, some of the people waited for Elijah to literally return. On this subject, we read in the Gospel of Matthew, "The disciples asked Jesus, 'Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?' Jesus replied, 'Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things: but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased...'" [Mt. 17:10-2] The symbolic prophecy of Elijah referred to the coming of John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Messiah.
Towards the end of today's Gospel Reading, we heard the following word of John the Baptist, "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." [Mt. 3:11] In these words, John alludes to the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire on Pentecost Day. [Acts 2:3]
At the same time, when speaking of a baptism of fire, it can be interpreted as meaning to receive the Holy Spirit in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. It can also be interpreted to mean the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit that sanctifies the souls so that they may become more in the likeness of Jesus Who is the First Fruit [1 Cor. 15:20] of many to follow.
As we "prepare the way of the Lord" in our lives, we are called to review the status of our disposition towards the grace of God the Father that is manifested through the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit. During Advent, we are called to be repentant of our sins. We are called to pray unceasingly, (pause) to make penance, (pause) to fast (pause) and to perform acts of charity towards our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Are we granting the Spirit of God the freedom to freely flow through us so we may shine as lights in the world? Or are we resisting the purifying of the Holy Spirit, choosing the pleasures of the world, its fame and it wealth? As we reflect upon this, let us not forget that "every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." [Mt. 3:10] May the power of the Spirit of Christ strengthen us all in our struggle to become living saints, not in name only, but also in action.
"On that day:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand
as a signal to the peoples;
the nations shall inquire of him,
and his dwelling shall be glorious." [Is. 11:1-10]
"Brothers and sisters: Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name." [Rom. 15:4-9]
"In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.' This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, 'The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.''
Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, John said to them, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.'" [Mt. 3:1-12]