Sunday 4th December – second Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10 Ps 71 Rom 15:4-9 Mt 3:1-12
‘From His roots a branch will bear fruit..’
“Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope” – writes St Paul to the Romans; and the passage from Isaiah today illustrates that well. Speaking God’s word to a people in desperate straits Isaiah offers a vision of hope – God’s promise that all will be well. And that promise is linked to the appearance of one associated with the house of David. Each year John the Baptist – the one who announces the Lord’s coming and reveals his presence – is the key figure in the two middle Sundays of Advent.
The gospel today presents us with a challenging encounter between John and the Pharisees, as he too, talks of the one who is coming. He is described in language reminiscent of the prophets of the Old Testament – Mathew’s citation of Isaiah emphasises that he is fulfilling God’s promises made to the people of Israel. John’s message is one of repentance “for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.”
It is very helpful to realise that ‘re-pentance’ has its roots in the idea of thinking again, or thinking differently. That is essential if we are to appreciate how extraordinary is the way that God’s promises will be fulfilled: by the birth of an infant in the stable in Bethlehem! There is an urgency about the Baptist’s call, and that urgency is always a key element of this season. Advent is a time for responding to the call and taking it seriously. We do not have to be persuaded that all the preparations for Christmas and its celebration are urgent – the Baptist calls us to a far more urgent preparation. The rancour that the Pharisees and Sadducees attract from him is also part of the challenge. These are serious religious minded people, whose faith is very important to them, but nonetheless they are told in no uncertain terms that conversion means producing fruit. For those who take the call seriously, the hope offered by Paul and described by Isaiah will be a reality.
Monsignor Robert Draper