On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea. On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.
1) O God, with your judgment endow the king, and with your justice, the king's son;
He shall govern your people with justice and your afflicted ones with judgment. (Refrain:)
2) Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Refrain:)
3) For he shall rescue the poor man when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save. (Refrain:)
4) May his name be blessed forever; as long as the sun his name shall remain.
In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed; all the nations shall proclaim his happiness. (Refrain:)
Brothers and sisters: Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I say that Christ became a minister of the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises to the patriarchs, but so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing praises to your name.
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)
This is not an easy message, and yet Matthew tells us that people from "Jerusalem, all Judea and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him". Why were they flocking to hear him if his message was so harsh? First of all, it could have been because the people perceived him to be the new Elijah who would announce the coming of the Messiah. The description of John which Matthew gives us is of someone being "clothed in a garment of camel's hair" and with a "leather belt around his waist". This was the same description as was used of Elijah. The people were eager to hear a prophet because it had been some 400 years since the last prophet had spoken to the people.
John's question to all of us is: will you be ready, will you be prepared?
- Once a parishioner was painting a small chapel. It was one of those small white picturesque chapels. As he began to get to the windows he noticed that there was a great deal of church left and not much paint. So he added some paint thinner to the bucket and proceeded on. As he reached the eaves of the church, he again noticed that the paint was running out. So once again he added some thinner. Well, by the time he reached the steeple, his paint was so watered down that it was not covering up the old paint. So he bowed his head in prayer in search of divine guidance. A clear, calm voice came to him and advised: "Repaint and thin no more." (1)
In today's gospel, we heard John the Baptist deliver a much more serious message to the people: repent and sin no more.
Matthew reminds us that "It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said, 'A herald's voice in the desert: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths."'" In other words, we are called upon to remove obstacles in our lives that may hinder the coming of Christ into our hearts. This involves a three-fold process. First of all, we must be sorry for the sins of the past. Without a sorrow for our previous sins, we cannot pass "Go", we cannot collect $200, as they say in the Monopoly game. When John scolds the Pharisees and Sadducees, they may have been able to have remorse for their sins. But repentance involves more than being sorry for sins; it also requires a reform of one's life, that is, a firm resolve not to sin again in the future. That is why John asks them to give him some evidence that they mean to reform their lives. The fact that they may be sorry for sins of the past is not enough.
It is interesting to note that although both John and Jesus urge the people to "repent", neither one of them ever defines what repentance means. Therefore, it must have been a word that was familiar to the Jews of the time. Actually, to a Jew, repentance was central to all religious faith and to all relationship with God. One writer said that "Repentance is the sole, but inexorable, condition of God's forgiveness and the restoration of his favor, and the divine forgiveness and favor are never refused to genuine repentance." Even the Jewish word commonly used for repentance has an interesting history. It is from the Hebrew word which means "to turn". (2) Thus, repentance is a turning away from evil and a turning toward God. This is the meaning when Isaiah puts these words into the mouth of God: "Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God, there is no other!" (Is. 45:22) Later on, Isaiah advises the people to "seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their ways and the proud their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
When John goes on to advise the Pharisees and Sadducees not to pride themselves on being children of Abraham, John is cutting to the quick of Jewish beliefs that all who are descended from Abraham will be saved. The Jews believed that they would be saved just because they were children of Abraham. It would be the same as if we believed that through our own baptism into Christianity we would be saved through the merit of Christ. But John goes on to tell them that "every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown in the fire". In other words, he is telling them that everyone will be judged on their own merits, not on their ancestry.
So we have a repentance for sins of the past which also involves a reform of one's life, a promise to sin no more. This leads to a reconciliation with God, but there is still more that is necessary. And that is a reconciliation with one another. And this could be the most difficult thing of all. As we prepare to remember the coming of Christ on that first Christmas night 2000 years ago, the following story about a Christmas pageant might illustrate what I'm getting at here far better than I ever could.
- I was teaching a Grade 2 class in London, Ontario, Canada, and was asked to produce a Christmas pageant. After much thought and tact, I gave out the various parts for the pageant. One problem was Ralph. He was a big boy for nine years old and should have been in Grade 4. Besides being big, he was clumsy, slow-moving and slow-thinking. He was well-liked by all the children, especially the younger ones - he acted as their natural protector. Ralph wanted to be a shepherd with a flute. I told him I had a more important role for him. As the innkeeper, I reasoned, he would not have too many lines to remember. His size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more impressive. We practiced and practiced, each child feeling his importance to the success of the evening. The auditorium filled with family and friends for the yearly school extravaganza of a stage filled with exuberant children. But no one in the audience or on the stage was more caught up in the magic of that night than Ralph.
The play progressed without any major mishaps until Joseph appeared, walking slowly, tenderly helping Mary to the door of the inn. He knocked hard on the wooden door. Ralph was ready and waiting.
"What do you want?" he cried out, pushing the door open with a rude gesture.
"We are looking for lodgings."
"Look for them elsewhere." Ralph looked straight ahead, but he spoke with conviction. "The inn is full."
"Kind sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary."
"There is no room for you."
"Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and must find a place to rest for the night. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired."
Ralph looked down at Mary. There was a long pause. The audience became tense with embarrassment.
"No, begone!", I coached.
Ralph just stood there.
Three times I prompted him from the wings, each time louder than the last. The angels backstage with me were becoming anxious, too. At last, Ralph automatically repeated the words he had learned in those long weeks of practice:
Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and started to turn away. The innkeeper did not return to his inn as directed. He stood there watching the forlorn couple, looking perplexed, with his mouth opened, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filled with tears. Then suddenly, this Christmas pageant became different from all the rest.
"Don't go, Joseph. Please don't go," Ralph called out. "Bring Mary back." His face brightened with a big smile. He stretched out his arms. "You can have my room!" (3)
Just as Ralph really wasn't himself as long as he had to tell Joseph and Mary to go away, we are not really ourselves if we harbor anger, resentment and bitterness in our hearts. And just as Ralph was truly happy once he could let Joseph and Mary into his room, so will we be happy if we let Jesus into our own hearts.
John’s message concerned the three “r’s”. Not ‘readin’, ritin’ and ‘rithmetic, but repentance, reform and reconciliation. This was a difficult message then; it is a difficult message now. As this Christmas approaches, we need to prepare the way of the Lord. We need to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of his coming. Do we need to work on our three "r's" this Advent season? This Christmas, will we have room in our hearts for Jesus? Or will our hearts be full of anger, resentment and old grudges, just as they have been in the past. Let them go! Put them under the tree this year as your gift to Jesus. Repent, reform and be reconciled with one another. If you can do these three things, then the gift of peace will be yours this Christmas.
2. From The Gospel of Luke, copyright 1975 by William Barclay. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. Used with permission.
3. Trouble At the Inn, by Dina Donohue. From Guideposts magazine, copyright 1966 by Guideposts, Carmel, New York. Included in Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, pp. 16-18, copyright 1996 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL. Also included in Christmas In My Heart, pp. 47-51, copyright 1996 by Joe Wheeler, Doubleday, New York.
(Copyright 2016 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Lord Jesus, you are the shoot that sprouted from the stump of Jesse. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you shall judge the poor with justice. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you are the one spoken of by the prophets who will baptize with the Spirit. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: John fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah and prepared a way for the Lord. As we ready our own hearts for the Lord's coming, we confidently lift our needs to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer."
That the members of the Church will use this Advent season to prepare their hearts as a fitting place for the Lord, we pray to the Lord.
That the Lord's Spirit of wisdom, knowledge and justice may rest upon the leaders of the nations of the world, we pray to the Lord.
That the Lord may increase our love for one another, and especially for those in need, at this blessed time of the year, we pray to the Lord.
That the Lord may find us watching and ready at his coming, we pray to the Lord.
That we will be generous in our support of all the retired religious who have selflessly served us all of their lives, we pray to the Lord.
That all those whose lives have been affected by natural disasters will be strengthened in their efforts to rebuild their lives, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: O gracious Father, as we prepare a place in our hearts for your Son, grant us the grace of your Spirit to remove the obstacles which hinder our love for one another and to build bridges of unity and reconciliation in their place. And we ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.