Today in the Spirit: Advent 2A

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In the second and third Sundays of Advent, our attention is drawn in the assigned Gospel readings to the ministry of John the Baptist, and so begins the church’s shift from contemplating Jesus’ second coming in glory, like a good film that supplies the end before the beginning, back to the first coming. But before considering the events surrounding our Lord’s birth at fourth Advent and Christmas, we pause to take in the ministry of God’s appointed Forerunner. By meditating on the passages concerning the Baptist—in all the Gospels a type of the church—we are being equipped to see better the immensity of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah coming into the world deserving of a herald before him. The assigned supporting readings give further weight to the overall sense of compelling built into the Advent season, a compelling for which we do well to “prepare.”    

The Collect

Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Stump of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-10)

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
  the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
  the Spirit of counsel and might,
  the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Like time-lapse video in a television program, this song in Isaiah carries us in the space of just a few verses from a stump of Jesse to a fully orbed new world of peace and harmony between even the most unlikely inhabitants—the wolf and the lamb, the child and the cobra. Clearly the Messiah’s’ gift of knowledge coming in and covering the earth is no mere addition of information to the mind but transformation of the heart. In slow time we have trouble seeing the full flowering of this vision, but with the eyes trained by the Spirit of Jesus, we do catch glimpses of change taking root in our Christian communities, and from there in society at large. Behold, new patience, new caring for one another, even among diverse characters and cultures. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Col. 3:15). The church is where the action is. Are you cynical about the church, and not much involved in Christian fellowship? Make no mistake–you’re missing out! Today, in the Spirit, taking in the breath-taking transformation prophesied in Isaiah’s vision, look for something of that unity unfolding in your Christian fellowship, and God will give you eyes to see it.   

Who Alone (Psalm 72)

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
  who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
   may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen! (Psalm 72:18-19)

Some Bible commentators think the last few verses of this psalm were added later to convert it from a king’s coronation song to a hymn of praise to Yahweh and his coming Messiah. If so, no wonder! As the kings of Judah become increasingly inept and corrupt, the faithful will turn their hope to the One God who alone does wondrous things. We now know Jesus Christ to be the fulfillment of these exalted words. By faith and from the testimony of the New Testament, and from mission history, we understand that the reign of our Lord Jesus is indeed increasing toward from sea to sea, and also that he saves the lives of the needy. Today, by the Spirit, in this Advent season, let’s do like the people of Israel, casting aside vain hope in anything other than the Father God and Jesus his Son.   

Encouragement of the Scriptures (Romans 15:1-13)

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.(Romans 15:4-6)

The word hope appears three times in this final section of Paul’s teaching in Romans.  At the end of the passage is a call to hope in the Root of Jesse (quoted from Isaiah 11:10, in the assigned OT reading), and hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (15), but at the beginning note Paul says hope through the encouragement of the Scriptures (4). As opposed to an invisible God, the Scriptures are a physical conduit–something we can see and hear and touch–to deliver by God’s grace spiritual edification. For this reason he quotes the OT Scriptures in this passage one after another like strokes of a living and active double-edged sword (see Heb. 4:12). Do you find yourself just now discouraged by circumstances at home, at work or in the larger world? Are you dissatisfied by the secular world’s alleged solutions to problems? Following Paul, be a Bible-open believer. Today, in the Spirit, open the Scriptures with hope and expectation, “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them” (Collect, Advent 2), and be encouraged.

Crying in the Wilderness (Matthew 3:1-12)

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.'” (Matthew 3:1-3)

In the early part of the Gospel reading we are told John came preaching in the wilderness, and in fulfillment of prophecy that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness.  It does not present as a favorable setting to begin a campaign of Good News—but it is one that we easily relate to. Is there not a wilderness-like quality to all our ministry environments, to the routines of our lives, and very often to the state of our internal selves? We wonder how God can possibly produce fruit in such barren and unpromising soil as ours. And yet just as many people from Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to the Baptist, God brings unexpected, sometimes miraculous growth and transformation–inside ourselves and outside where we are called to live and serve. The 19th century American missionary to Myanmar (Burma) Adoniram Judson, famously wrote: “The prospects are as bright as the promises of God.” Today, Holy Spirit, give me the Baptist’s hope as I cry out your name in my wilderness.

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

November 27, 2022

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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