Reading Ramblings – December 8, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Advent – December 8, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

Context: We think of Advent as having to do with Christmas, with preparation for the birth of the Son of God. But of course, no such preparation is necessary. This event occurred some 2000 years ago. We remember it and give thanks for it, but prepare for it? We can build anticipation for the actual day, but Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning arrival – particularly the arrival of a personage of some importance. And while Jesus fits that bill historically, Advent reminds us that He will return, and that we should be waiting for this. The readings turn our attention slightly from last week’s focus on Jesus’ promised return by reminding us that God already fulfilled his promise to send his Son a first time.

Isaiah 11:1-10 – We look forward to the arrival of a king, but a king like no other. All other, human kings are limited in what they can do, what they can know, what they can bring into effect. But the divine king has no such limitations. Not only will his source be unexpected (v.1), he will be graced with the Holy Spirit of God. A seven-fold description of this Spirit is given (v.2), leading to the outcome that he will be obedient to God (vs. 3-5). The effect of his reign will alter everything. Not just human relationships but all of creation will enjoy the blessings of his reign. The completeness of this king’s perfect rule extends to all aspects of creation, restoring an order we can’t even begin to imagine.

Psalm 72:1-7 – A psalm fit for a king. Or more accurately, a psalm in need of a king fitting enough for it! A coronation prayer, that God would provide his justice and righteousness appropriately through the king, so the king might carry out his duties faithfully and obediently to God, and therefore as a blessing to all creation. A picture of perfect strength and perfect benevolence, no king has ascended to the lofty heights of good rule depicted here. But one will. The king we wait for, the king who will return – he alone bears the righteousness and justice of God perfectly. He alone is feared by evil and our ancient enemy, Satan, as He alone has already defeated Satan and when He returns will finalize this defeat, judgment, and punishment.

Romans 15:4-13 – The king we await is the king of all, both of Jew and Gentile, the chosen people of God as well as those grafted into their story (Romans 11). But perhaps the most powerful reminder in this section is in verse 4. Scripture is written for a purpose. It is written for an audience and we are part of that audience, today, just as God’s people always have been. God’s Word remains true. As such, we are to be instructed by it rather than presuming to teach the Word. As such we must always resist the ever-present temptation to reshape Scripture by omission or addition, so that it says what we prefer it to say rather than what God has said. No other word can be trusted like God’s Word, and no other word can counter it or replace it. The Word endures, and because the Word endures we are encouraged to endure also, knowing the Word will one day summon us from our graves to live forever in the Kingdom of God. But this isn’t an idle encouragement or an idle endurance. And we don’t get to shape our endurance any more than we can shape any other aspect of the Word. Encouragement and endurance should lead towards harmony among the faithful. It should lead to a unity of voices in worship. Would this happened in more congregations, let alone among denominations!

Matthew 3:1-12 – Matthew introduces us to John the Baptist. He summarizes his message (v.2), explains the relevance of it through the prophet Isaiah (v.3), describes him physically (v.4) and describes how he was received (vs.5-6). John’s message is appealing to many, but it turns harsh and condemning of some who feel no real call to repentance. Satisfied in their own righteousness John’s words pass through and over them without affecting any repentance, rendering their desire for baptism pointless. John speaks strongly – there is wrath coming. Wrath against evil. Wrath of the perfect and good king against any who would oppose him and in so doing be hateful or careless with his creation. Repentance is more than something we say. Repentance leads to change. Failure for this to happen – or when this ceases to happen – is a primary way of recognizing that we are in danger in this coming wrath, that we might be among those whom wrath is directed against.

The Word of God convicts us of sin and unrighteousness and offers us forgiveness and righteousness through the Son of God, according to the plan of God the Father and by the power of God the Holy Spirit. If we become so lost in our sin that the Word no longer does this, we are not bearing the appropriate fruits of repentance.

The King will be able to discern this. It is his job to discern repentance from apathy and those who love God from those who find it convenient or fashionable to live as though they did. Much is at stake here! It was appropriate for the people of God to come out for a baptism of repentance, confessing their sins in the water of the Jordan River. To accept the externals of repentance without real inward change is a deadly dangerous place to be.

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