Advent’s emphasis on the finality of the judgment Jesus will bring at the end of time is paired with the idea that his role was deeply embedded in the Scriptures of Israel. Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 11:1-10) relates to the “root of Jesse,” the father of King David, who is linked directly to Jesus in Matthew’s genealogy (Matthew 1:1-16). As “David’s son” (a designation applied to Jesus in the Gospels), Jesus takes on the royal dignity and prerogatives of judgment assigned to kings in the Hebrew Bible. The use of Psalm 72 within the Lectionary endorses this royal identity. At the same time, Paul insists in Romans that Jesus’ coming as the anointed descendant of David extends his rule beyond Israel to gentiles on the basis of his mercy (Romans 15:4-13). Through the prophecy of John the Baptist, Matthew takes the perspective of the end of all time, presenting Jesus as the sole arbiter of what God will preserve and what God will destroy.
The First Reading
A Vision of a Renewed Davidic Monarchy
Isaiah looks forward to the renewed monarchy of Israel, ruled by a descendant of David (that is, a shoot from Jesse, David’s father). The vision is idyllic, as the prophet envisages a completely peaceable kingdom under an ideal ruler. In this realm even wild beasts live in harmony with one another and with human beings.
- Then a shoot will emerge from Jesse’s stock; a sprout from his roots will blossom.
- The spirit of the Lord will settle on him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of counsel and might, a spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.
- He will breathe it in through fear of the Lord,
so that he shall not render judgment by what appears before his eyes, nor convict on the basis
of what falls on his ears,
- but he will judge poor people by means of what is right and render a verdict on behalf of
common folk through fairness.
He will thump the ground with the rod of his mouth and destroy evil by the breath of his lips.
- Righteousness will gird his hips; faithfulness will be his weapons-belt.
- A wolf will dwell with a lamb and a leopard will take its rest alongside a goat;
calf and lion will grow fat together, and a small child will lead them.
- Cow and bear will become friendly, so that their offspring rest together.
A lion will eat hay like cattle  and an infant will play over the nest of a cobra;
a toddler will stretch out its hand over the opening of a viper’s den.
- Neither evil nor destruction will be done on all my sacred mountain,
for the land will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea.
- In that day, nations will seek out Jesse’s root,
standing as a national symbol,
and his capital will be glorious.
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
A Prayer for the Righteous Monarch
The psalmist prays for God’s help in teaching the dynastic king to rule justly, in particular so that he will judge fairly the cases of the poor and powerless. The image in verse 7 of the blossoming of the righteous reflects the lectionary context of this reading, immediately following Isaiah 11, the first verse of which refers to the blossoming of Jesse’s roots. The final verses of this reading, 18-19, are separate from the rest of Psalm 72. Their statement of God’s power and glory provides an overall conclusion to the collection of poems that comprise Psalms 42-72.
- God, to the monarch dispense your justice,
and to the monarchy, your righteousness.
- May the monarch judge your people in righteousness,
and the powerless in justice.
- May the mountains bear peace for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
- May the monarch bring justice to the powerless among the people,
deliverance to the poor,
and crush any bully.
- May they hold you in awe while the sun shines,
and then before the moon, for generations on end.
- May the monarch be like rain falling upon a fresh-cut field,
like showers irrigating the land.
- In these days, may the righteous blossom,
and peace, in abundance until the moon is no more.
- Blessed is the Lord, God, the God of Israel,
who alone does wonders.
- And blessed be his glorious name forever.
May the whole earth be filled with God’s glory.
Amen and Amen.
The Second Reading
God’s Faithfulness to Israel through the Inclusion of the Gentiles
The Apostle Paul exhorts those believers gathering in various Roman houses to accept one another based on the example of Jesus’ acceptance of them. Through a collection of Hebrew Scriptures, Paul argues that God receives gentiles alongside Israel, God’s people. These verses repeatedly demonstrate the inclusion of the gentiles with Israel (Psalm 18:49 and 2 Samuel 22:50, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10). Further, the Isaiah citation situates the Anointed Jesus within Isaiah’s prophetic vision of the arrival and reign of the root of Jesse.
For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, so that through both the continuing support and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. And so, may the God of this continuing support and encouragement give to you the same respect for one another as is in keeping with the Anointed Jesus, so that together with one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed.
Therefore, accept one another just as the Anointed also accepted you for the glory of God. For I assert that the Anointed came as a servant to the circumcised on behalf of God’s truthfulness in order to confirm the promises to the patriarchs, and on behalf of mercy in order that the gentiles might glorify God. As it is written,
“On account of this, I will proclaim you among the gentiles,
and to your name I will sing praise.”
And again it says,
“Gentiles, rejoice with God’s peoples!”
“Praise the Lord, all you gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise God!”
And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come,
the one who rises to rule the gentiles.
In God, the gentiles will hope.”
And so, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in this hope by the power of the holy Spirit.
John the Baptist’s Prophecy of Jesus
The Gospels present John the Baptist as Jesus’ precursor, whom Matthew identifies with the voice prophesied in Isaiah as preparing God’s way (Isaiah 40:3). John’s dress and location, as well as his call to repentance, are reminiscent of the portrayal of Elijah (1 Kings 17-19; 2 Kings 1-2). In the setting of Matthew’s community, John’s preaching is pointed vehemently against the Pharisees and the priestly group known as Zadokites, despite the legitimately high regard for them within Judaism. By the time the Gospel was written, they and the teachers of the Matthean church were irreconcilably opposed to one another. When John the Baptist in this Gospel proclaims Jesus’ coming, the point is not simply that Jesus will come in John’s time, but that at the end of time Jesus will exercise final judgment.
In those days John the immerser came, proclaiming in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has approached.” He is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet: “Voice of one calling in the wilderness—‘Prepare the Lord’s way, make God’s paths straight.’” John wore clothing from camel’s hair with a skin strap around his hips, and his diet was locusts and field-honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the surroundings of the Jordan went out to him; while declaring their sins they were immersed by him in the river Jordan. Yet when he saw many of the Pharisees and Zadokites coming for immersion, he said to them, “Nest of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? So, produce fruit worthy of repentance! Do not presume to say among yourselves, ‘Our father is Abraham.’ Because I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise children for Abraham! The axe is already put to the root of the trees, so every tree not producing good fruit is chopped down and thrown into fire. I indeed immerse you in water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is stronger than I am. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will immerse you in holy Spirit and fire. His pitchfork is in his hand, and he will clear out his threshing floor and gather his grain into the storehouse. Yet the useless husks he will incinerate with unquenchable fire.”