The prophecy of Isaiah and its echo in Matthew’s Gospel form a kind of beginning and ending framework for this week’s readings. In our first reading we have the Prophet’s description of a messianic king that would be the ideal leader. In our Gospel reading we hear John the Baptist preaching that the one about whom Isaiah had spoken had come, and all need to prepare the way for him and his message.
The first reading is from the Prophet whose identity we know. His name is Isaiah and he is sometimes called Isaiah of Jerusalem. Basically, his preaching was about the fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria in 722-721 BCE, but among those oracles is a collection called The Book of Emmanuel (Is 7:1-12:6). We read many of those beautiful passages during the time of Advent and Christmas. Those descriptions of a messianic person brought the hope of God’s protection to the people of Judah.
We have here the roots of what we call the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (Is 11:2-3). Those gifts would usher in a time of righteousness and faithfulness, and a time of peace and tranquility when the Davidic king would reign in splendor (Is 11:5-10).
Paul’s Letter to the Romans sets the writings of former days in a position of instruction and as a source of hope that comes from the encouragement of the Scriptures. Paul saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises made to the Jews, and also made available to the Gentiles through God’s merciful love. In other words, the fulfillment of the promises is for all humankind who join in praising God in the joy and peace of believing. Hope abounds through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the vein of the fulfillment of prophecy, our Gospel reading from Matthew makes a strong pitch for preparation for the coming of the message of Jesus. “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight” (Mt 3:3). John the Baptist worked out of Isaiah’s thought. John came dressed in such garments as were typically worn by prophets, his lifestyle was described in penitential terms, and the water ritual he was involved in included confession of sins (Mt 3:4-6).
The Baptist distinguished his baptism with water from the baptism with the Holy Spirit that the Messiah would give. When the Messiah would begin preaching he would be greater that John. Using the form of a separation parable, separation of the wheat from the chaff, Jesus’ message would put in order the good news of salvation and pave the way of hope for all people of upright intention.
As our Advent preparation continues, the Psalmist can help our prayer. Our hope for justice and righteousness for all people gives us peace and joy in our efforts to bring about God’s blessings to all the world. “May all people bless themselves by him, all
nations call him blessed.” (Ps 72)
Betty Jane Lillie, S.C.