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. 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.(P) The word of the Lord.
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. (R)
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. (R)
According to the decree for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. In it are set up judgment seats, seats for the house of David. (R)
For he shall rescue the poor 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. (R)
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. (R)
Brothers and sisters: Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by the 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 praise to your name.(P) The word of the Lord.
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 of 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."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
In this season of Advent we read and meditate on the Biblical passages that exhort us to prepare for both the celebration of Christ's birth in Bethlehem and His return in glory at the end of time as the Judge of all. Last Sunday, from the gospel of Matthew, we read that just before the end of His ministry on earth, Jesus predicted His second coming. Jesus said that just like God had destroyed the wicked in a flood but let the righteous Noah and a few others live and inherit the earth, He would come again in judgment, and at that time He would take away the wicked but allow the righteous to become dwellers of His kingdom. However, He urged His people to be vigilant, alert, and constantly watchful just like the master who had kept a careful watch at night anticipating the possibility of a thief breaking into his house, implying that He would come suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief.
In today's gospel text, Matthew (3:1-12), we read of the work of John the Baptist who paved the way for Jesus' public ministry. John appeared in the desert of Judea and called on people to repent, for the kingdom of heaven was near. Matthew in fact, reminds us that the Prophet Isaiah had prophesied the preaching of John, seven hundred years before Christ. Isaiah who lived at a time of wickedness, war and turmoil in Israel's history, prophesied the destruction of Israel because of their sin and rebellion against God, and then delivered a message of hope that their liberation would come from Jesus, the Messiah. He had also foretold that a voice in the wilderness would cry out to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths, Isaiah (40:3).
Now you can imagine the reaction of the Jews when they heard John preaching a message of repentance. The Jews knew the Old Testament prophecies well, and they were expecting a "political", Messiah who would reestablish David's throne in Israel and usher in an era of great prosperity and peace. So, on hearing the preaching of John about the Messiah, many from Jerusalem, Judea and all around the area of the River Jordan came to him. He baptized those who confessed their sins but refused to baptize others including some of the Pharisees and Sadducees. John said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?"
Why did John call the Pharisees and Sadducees "a brood of vipers"? The Pharisees and Sadducees were two prominent Jewish religious groups in Jesus' day. There were many differences between them but they were quite similar in their attitude and behavior. Both the groups came across as being very religious and superior to others. They imagined that they would be exempted from God's wrath, on the grounds of their being the children of Abraham. Many times in the past they had failed to live up to their obligations according to the covenant with God and so were sent into exile for their sins. They were descendants of Abraham just by birth but not by faith and righteousness. In John the Baptist and Jesus' time, many of the Jews had the same attitude. In this context John called them a "brood of vipers", perhaps referring to them as the "seed of the serpent", that is, "satan's off-spring", or "children of the devil".
John went on to demand that they repent and "produce good fruit as evidence of repentance". That is, their repentance must affect the way they lived. Then he said to them, "God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones." This verse can be understood in two ways:
John's point was that it was not just good enough to be born into the chosen race, Abraham's family, but one must also follow in the footsteps of the obedient faith of Abraham and repent of sin and change one's life. If they refused to repent and bear good fruit, John warned that they would be thrown into the fire as a punishment. John also cautioned them that the Messiah would be more powerful and mightier than him and that He would baptize them with "the Holy Spirit and fire". After saying this John used an analogy and said that the Messiah would not only "gather His wheat into his barn, but the chaff He will burn in unquenchable fire". This means that at His second coming, Christ will allow repentant converts into His Kingdom but will destroy the unrepentant people with fire.
In today's text John is revealing some powerful lessons for us:
All of us are capable of knowing right from wrong and the way we should live. We know sin exists and what it is like. We also know that sin not only has an effect upon us, it also affects our relationship with other people. Yet we often deliberately do what we know is sin. If someone confronts us about our sin, we attempt to justify ourselves. Self-justification is one of the biggest problems many of us face today. We justify our sinful actions by saying, "There are others who are far worse that me," "The world is like that", "God does not see sin in His children", and so on.
As we prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of Christ, we have another opportunity to heed the call of John the Baptist for repentance and be saved. As long as any sin, whether big or small, whether overt or covert, reigns in our lives, we cannot experience God's total love. As long as we bear the guilt of sin, we cannot protest that God is unjust in allowing us to suffer. Let us, therefore, listen as John urges us to prepare for the coming of the Lord by truly and humbly confessing our sins.
It is a great blessing to have parents who fear, love and honour God. However, children should not expect their parents' piety to bring about their own salvation or it will come to us as a matter of course. Even though salvation of an entire Christian household may be accomplished through the faith and devotion of a parent, every individual in the household must personally believe in Jesus Christ and fear, love, honour and obey God. So too, God fearing parents should not presume on the promises of God. In order for children to inherit God's promises for provision, direction, protection, wisdom, peace and anything they need for life, parents, besides praying, must also exert every effort to educate their children in the ways of God.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!