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Advent 2, Cycle A

by Mark Ellingsen

The difference Christ’s coming makes. Exploring how Jesus’ presence in our lives changes us (Justification and Sanctification are stressed, along with some consideration of the difference Christ makes for Social Ethics).

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
The last of more than twenty Elohistic Psalms of David, this one is attributed to Solomon. This is a collection of Psalms traditionally attributed to David, but which identify God as Elohim, not as Yahweh. This Psalm differs from this apparent collection beginning with Psalm 51 because of being identified with Solomon (the editor of the Psalms still makes clear in v. 20 that this is part of a collection of prayers of David). This Psalm is also distinct from the rest of the Elohistic Davidic collection insofar as it is a so-called “Royal Psalm.” Such songs (including Psalms 20, 21, and 101) pertain to royal activities. In the case of this Psalm, the song may have been composed for a coronation of a king or its annual commemoration. Typical of the aura surrounding ancient Near-Eastern royalty, a supernatural character to the king is noted (vv. 5-6). Like its counterparts the Psalm was probably then added by editors to existing collections (like the Elohistic Davidic Psalms in this case), perhaps according to how they fit as messianic prophecies. It functions as a conclusion of Book II of Psalms.

In addition to the ascending king’s supernatural aura, pleas are offered that reflect the justice and righteousness of God, concerning himself with justice and care for the poor and needy (vv. 1-4). The last verses of the lesson and of the Psalm (vv. 18-19) are a doxology to conclude Book II, which was probably added by editors to the Psalm. The blessedness of Yalweh Elohim is proclaimed.

Application: The text invites sermons on the character of Jesus as a king (Christology) who rules with righteousness and justice (tsedeq). Such characteristics are most clearly manifest in God’s saving and delivering people (Psalm 71:2). God gives special attention to the poor in delivering us. Sermons on Justification by Grace and/or Social Ethics responsibly emerge from the text. Another possibility might to be focus on the character of earthly kings literally described in the song, taking the occasion to focus on how the good and just political leader is to be concerned (by God’s grace and his assistance) with the poor.

Isaiah 11:1-10

The text, appearing in a compilation of two or three distinct historical strands of prophecy, is probably rooted in the prophecy of the historical Isaiah, an eighth-century BC prophet to Judah (the Southern Kingdom) after Israel (the Northern Kingdom) had been annexed by Syria. It was obviously a time of great anxiety for Hebrews living in the south. This text is also a messianic oracle, which like the Psalm perhaps has its origins in the celebration of the accession to the throne of a Judean king. The text clearly portrays this king in a messianic manner, manifesting characteristics by birth (being of the line of David and Jesse) and through gifts of the Spirit that were embodied by other great Hebrews of the past (vv. 1-3). This messianic king who is righteous and faithful (note again how righteousness is linked with the deliverance or salvation of the Hebrews from evil [v. 4b]) will also judge the poor fairly (v. 4a) and usher in an era of peace (vv. 6-9). Such themes typify the historical Isaiah (2:4; 14:1-2, 30, 32; 26:5-6). The reign of this king will be a signal to the people, who will want to learn more of him (v. 10, suggesting an evangelistic theme).

Application: Like the Psalm this text affords opportunity to proclaim the character of Jesus as king through whose faithfulness and righteousness (Christology), along with the Holy Spirit, will usher in an era of peace and safety for his people. Justification by Grace and Eschatology are valid subjects of a sermon on the text, along with how these realities relate to Social Justice (concern for the poor) and Evangelism.

Romans 15:4-13

Concluding his introduction to the church in Rome, Paul exhorts the flock to live in harmony and to practice hospitality. The great evangelist expresses hope that the steadfast encouraging God may provide these virtues (the strong bearing with the weak), just as Christ endured insults (vv. 3, 5-6). His practice of hospitality is to inspire the same among the faithful (v. 7). Elaborating on this point, Paul notes that Jesus became a servant of the Hebrews (the circumcised) to confirm promises made to their fathers and in order that even the Gentiles might glorify God (vv. 8-9a). Portraying Christ as fulfillment to prophecy, Psalm 18:40, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10 are quoted, using the Greek-language Septuagint version (vv. 10-12). Collectively these texts are used to testify to Christ’s mission to all the Gentiles. The lesson concludes with a benediction calling on God to provide the faithful with peace, joy, and hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 13).

Application: The text provides occasion for sermons on the Christian life (Sanctification), highlighting how the work of the coming Christ in welcoming all he encountered and maintaining balance in the midst of insults makes us welcome people who yearn for harmony. The implications of such a life for experiencing peace and joy by a gift of the Holy Spirit might be developed. Another sermon direction is to focus on the text’s testimony to Jesus’ ministry to the Gentiles, how in fulfilling the Old Testament with this outreach we are reminded that the whole trajectory of Christian faith is a universal outreach to all (a sermon on Justification by Grace, the Atonement as gift of universal grace) and perhaps on the Social Ethical implications of that word.

Matthew 3:1-12

The gospel’s efforts to address Jewish Christians, finding links between the Jesus movement and the ancient faith of Israel, reflect in this report on the ministry of John the Baptist. Unlike the Markan version (1:1-8) where the account helps us know who Jesus is and his significance, because of the first two chapters in Matthew, more like the Lukan version (3:1-18), readers already know this. Consequently this text is more about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

In accord with the book’s overall agenda efforts are made to link John and earlier prophets or prophets said to be forthcoming, for the clothes he wears are like those of Elijah and of the prophets said to be coming (v. 4; cf. 2 Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4). The quotation of Isaiah 40:3 further makes these connections. Matthew is the only one of the gospel writers to link John’s proclamation to Jesus’ preaching of the urgency of preparing for the coming kingdom (v. 2; cf. 4:17). John’s practice of a baptism of repentance was not an anomaly in first-century Judaism. Practiced by the Qumran community that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls (Manual of Discipline) it was a practice of ritual purity with roots in Exodus 19:10 and Numbers 8:21, also functioning as a ritual of entrance for proselytes. But as John points out in the text, such a baptism was not a Christian baptism that saves through the Holy Spirit, but a baptism of repentance effective only for those bearing fruits (vv. 8, 11). John seems to link his harsh words against the Pharisees and Sadducees seeking such baptism with the ministry of Jesus who will separate the wheat and chaff (vv. 7, 12). There is general scholarly agreement that these harsh words need to be understood in terms of Matthew’s characteristic distinction between obedient and disobedient Hebrews, in contrast to Luke who in the parallel version focuses on condemning Israel as a whole. This entails in the case of our text that reference to Jesus separating wheat from chaff is not so much indicative of his judgmentalism as that his personhood (how we react to it) is what separates the faithful from those without faith.

Application: The text affords an opportunity to condemn sin and call the faithful to repentance (even from repentance from our Christmas-shopping materialism), but with the awareness that the baptism of Jesus, distinct from that of John’s, is a baptism by which the Holy Spirit changes lives (and so even repentance is to be seen as a work of God). Another alternative is to focus on how Jesus’ personhood (how we respond to his coming) is the great dividing line in human life, the event which determines whether we have repented from the old self-destructive ways and been transformed or whether instead will continue in the old self-destructive ways which typify modern American life and that that decision is urgent (Realized Eschatology).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen