Isaiah 11:1-10 Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 Romans 15:4-13 Matthew 3:1-12
“Prepare the way of the Lord” John the Baptist says, quoting Isaiah. This is not the reading from Isaiah we just heard, but it an appropriate reminder of what the season of Advent is about. It is a season in which we prepare for Jesus coming to usher in God’s kingdom.
Our lesson today from Isaiah is one that is referenced in our second lesson, Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. As Christians we read the prophesies of Isaiah in light our understanding that Jesus is the messiah. Isaiah says, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Then make reference to “the root of Jesse” who, “shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
I want us to consider what this means. Jesse is the father of King David, and the people of Israel are expecting a savior, a messiah, who will be descendant of King David. So, in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, where the family tree is listed, we see that Jesus is the from the tree of Jesse. Jesus is the Messiah.
In quoting our reading from Isaiah, Paul is saying that Jesus is not only the savior the people of Israel have been expecting, he is “the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” You may note that this is not an exact quote, but that is, in part, because of how it is translated. Our lesson from Isaiah translates Gentiles as nations, but this doesn’t change the meaning. In this instance, all nations mean those who are not Jewish Gentiles means the people who are not Jewish. Thus, Jesus, the Messiah, comes to reconcile the people from every tribe and every nation to the one true God.
The idea that God’s salvation is for all people is not unique to the New Testament, it is a understanding that can be found throughout Isaiah and the prophets. Elsewhere, the prophet Isaiah says the people of Israel have been chosen to be “a light for the nations” (in other words, the Gentiles) and he says that they are to draw all people to the salvation of God. This is part of what Isaiah teaches his people, and this is what Christ is doing.
Please note, I did not say this is what Jesus has done, I said this is what Jesus is doing. Clearly the work of reconciling all the people of the earth to God is not yet complete. Christ is still active in the world today and he seeks to draw us into a closer relationship with God and with each other.
John the Baptist says, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Being baptized with fire sounds frightening, but fire is used for purification. It separates the good from the bad and makes us holy. Being baptized by the Holy Spirit is what makes it possible for us to draw others to God. It is what helps us do the work that Christ has given us to do – to be, as Paul says, the body of Christ in the world today.
Many of us pray that God will change things for us, rather than give us the strength to answer God’s call. We are often powerless to change what needs to change and prayers for God’s intervention is appropriate – but there are certainly things we can change. We may not be able to feed all who are hungry, but we can feed some. We may not be able to bring about world peace, but we can work for peace in our households and our community.
We can seek common ground and unity rather than define ourselves by our differences. Preparing the way of the Lord, making our pathways straight refers to the work we need to do within ourselves in order to answers God’s call to service.
Advent is about preparing for Christ’s coming – not only as a child born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, but as the ruler over heaven and earth when all nations are reconciled to God and learn to live in peace in God’s kingdom.
Let us pray.
Loving God, we call upon you to fill our hearts with the knowledge of your kingdom that we might search as a light to others, helping them to follow the path to truth and love and life. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.