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Advent 2, Cycle A

by Norman Beck

All of the four texts selected for us for the Second Sunday of Advent in Cycle A call for changes to situations in which righteousness, justice, and peace will prevail. They suggest that these life situations will change and improve because people will change, because the leadership of the people will change, and most of all because God will act decisively to bring about change. The vastly improved situations hoped for in these texts will benefit all people who are open to God’s actions and to the presence of God in this world.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
This psalm is a prayer to God in behalf of an Israelite king and even more in behalf of the people of an Israelite kingdom. The psalmist requests an ideal situation for the king and for the people of Israel, an ideal situation that has never been realized in ancient Israel or in any other nation, including our own. The situation requested is one that would have pleased even Amos, the great prophet who called for justice in the northern kingdom of Israel. No king or head of state in Israel or anywhere else has ruled so well as is requested in this psalm.

It is precisely because the situation depicted in Psalm 72 is so ideal that many of us as Christians have seen in this psalm a depiction of the kingdom portrayed in the Synoptic Gospels, a description of Jesus and of the kingdom of God. Nevertheless, Jesus and the kingdom of God portrayed in the Synoptic Gospels are not like the king and the kingdom longed for in Psalm 72, unless we discard the portions of the psalm that do not apply to Jesus and embellish the portions that do.

If we sing or say Psalm 72 next Sunday, we should provide along with it considerable explanations about its setting in ancient Israel and about our Christian reinterpretations of it to apply portions of it to Jesus and to the kingdom of God in the Christian sense. An alternative to singing or saying verses 1-7 and 18-19 of the psalm would be to sing or to say verses 18-19 only. These two verses are a baracha (Israelite-Jewish prayer of blessing) that concludes Book II (Psalms 42-72) of the Psalter. As we sing or say verses 18-19 in a Christian worship service, we can adapt the verses slightly to read, “Blessed be the Lord God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all things, who alone does wonders. Blessed be the name of the Lord forever. May the Glory of the Lord God fill the entire universe. So be it, God. Amen!”

Isaiah 11:1-10
Within this text the Isaiah tradition reaches back to use the “ideal” conditions that were thought to have prevailed in the Garden of Eden as a model for the future. The result is a beautiful expression of hope for the messianic age of righteousness, justice, and peace. In Isaiah 11:1-10 we have a prime example of how the Israelites hope for a truly great king in the line of David, the messianic hope of the Israelite Scriptures, developed. We as Christians, of course, since the first century of the common era have seen in Jesus our Savior a fulfillment of this hope, even though we must be aware that by no means all aspects of this great messianic hope have been actualized as a result of events during the first century and of subsequent events in church history. Therefore, Christians and Jews together could and should proclaim this text as a witness of their shared hope for salvation and for shalom to be realized in the future. We as Christians can visualize this future hope primarily in terms of Jesus and his “first” and “second” comings, and Jews can visualize it primarily in terms of the coming of God as God has come in the past, but both groups can look forward to some new action of God that will be much greater than anything we have ever experienced. There are great benefits to both groups when Christians and Jews read, study, and relate to God together, sharing the Israelite Scriptures, which are canonical for both of our traditions. Because of the futuristic emphasis of the Christian Advent season, this is the best time within the Church Year for such Jewish and Christian group study, and this Isaiah 11:1-10 text is an excellent starting point. There is no better way than this for us “to get ready for Christmas.”

Romans 15:4-13
As in the Romans 13:11-14 text for the First Sunday of Advent, here also in Romans 15:4-13 Paul wrote about his wish that “followers of Jesus who came from a Jewish background and followers of Jesus who came from other backgrounds in the Hellenistic world would live together in harmony, in order that with one voice they would glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” With this understanding of Paul’s purpose in Romans, Paul is not seen as the one person who more than any other person changed Jewish Christianity into Hellenistic Christianity, but as a person who was vitally concerned about harmony between Jewish background followers of Jesus and non-Jewish background followers of Jesus. When Paul is seen in this way, perhaps not only the Jesus of history but also Paul can become a focal point for improved understanding among Jews and Christians. With Paul’s emphasis on the Spirit of God rather than on a legalistic literalism with regard to the Scriptures (“The letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive” 2 Corinthians 3:6; see also Romans 7:6), Paul supports fellowship and unity, rather than broken or protested fellowship and disunity, also among Christians.

Matthew 3:1-12
Even a simple comparison of the Synoptic texts that include this pericope indicates that the Matthean redactors did considerable rearranging of Mark 1:2-6 in forming Matthew 3:1-12. They did not use the Malachi 3:1 portion of Mark’s quotation. In their use of “Q” materials or of other composition in Matthew 3:7-10 (Luke 3:7-9), the Matthean writers characteristically specified the Pharisees and, in this instance, also the Sadducees for vilification where Luke has simply the multitudes. It is regrettable that both Matthew and Luke used the vulgar epithet, “You offspring of snakes!” This expression in our English idiom would be “You sons-of-bitches!” The word of John the Baptist and the Word of God in Scripture would speak with greater authority without the use of this epithet.

The message of Matthew 3:1-12 for Jews, for Christians, and for all people is “Change! Change your minds, your attitudes, your actions, your lifestyle!” “Prepare the way for the Lord!” Perhaps we become overly complacent as we hear this text, thinking that somehow this message is not for us but for others, for Pharisees and for Sadducees, so that we do not have to deal with it ourselves. This message, however, is for us, especially for those of us who are pastors and teachers. We are expected, even commanded, to change and to prepare the way of the Lord. Then it is for all people, for Jews, for Christians, and for all others as well. This text, particularly in relation to the other texts appointed for this occasion, has its message directed straight at us. We have no choice other than to accept and proclaim this message boldly this Advent season.

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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