What the Prophets can tell us today as we prepare for Christmas

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Readings:  Is. 11:1-10/Rom. 15:4-9

            Psalm:      72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17

            Gospel:    Mt. 3:1-12

During the Advent Season, The Old Testament Readings and the Gospels feature two of the greatest prophets in the Bible:  Isaiah and John the Baptist.  These two prophets laid the foundation for the coming of the Messiah to the Jewish people. In many ways, their message was the same even though it was said to different groups in different centuries. And yet their message still resonates with us today as we begin our search for the Messiah. It is a message that states even though all is lost we still have hope in a Savior to help us in our time of distress. These two prophets laid the foundation for how the Messiah is to come and how we are to recognize him.

The prophet Isaiah lived during the second half of the Eighth Century B.C. This was a time of great upheaval in the kingdom. The Northern Kingdom had succumbed to the armies of Assyria, while Jerusalem was under threat of invasion by another force. It is during these times that Isaiah speaks about in the reading proclaimed today. He sees the Assyrian army as a weapon of God’s destruction over the Northern Kingdom that had stopped being faithful to God’s word.

But instead of praising the Assyrians, Isaiah rebukes them because they go far beyond what God intended them to do. The Assyrians wish was to bring total destruction to the Israelites rather than just subjugate them as many other kingdoms would. Isaiah equates their actions to a woodsman cutting down trees from a mighty forest.  While most forest has been destroyed, there are still a few trees left standing. To Isaiah, these are the trees that represent the Israelites who survived God’s judgment. It is this image that the reading proclaimed today begins “on that day.” It is from this small group of trees-these remaining children of Israel-where their deliverer will come. The shoot that comes from the stump of Jesse is a representation of King David, Jesse’s son. The spirit of the Lord will rest upon this shoot of Jesse which will give him a spirit of wisdom, counsel, understanding, knowledge, strength, and fear the Lord. It is these qualities that will bring Israel back to its glory that was promised to them by God. It is from the shoot of Jesse, the lineage of King David, that the Messiah that is to come will show himself to the Israelites with the assistance of John the Baptist.

The life of John the Baptist had been, like Isaiah, dedicated to the arrival of the Messiah. And much like Isaiah, John strove for the repentance of the Jewish people of their sinful life. They both lived in a time the Jewish people were under occupation. While Isaiah lived under the Assyrians, John the Baptist lived under the rule of the Roman government. However, they both believed that by living a life dedicated to God rather than dedicated to Man will one be able to be a true disciple of God and will be able to see the Messiah face-to-face.

John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, was technically a member of the priestly class. Both his mother and father came from the tribe of Aaron and as such were responsible for the worship practices and the sacrificial rites done in the temple. Yet John was different from the rest of the priestly class beginning at the moment of his conception. His name that was chosen had not been part of either side of the family, but Zechariah listened to the Archangel Gabriel by declaring that his name is to be John at the time of his presentation. He further distanced himself from his role as a priest by living the life of a hermit out in the desert.

John rejected the habits of the other priests in wearing the finest linens and costly jewels and at lavish meals because of his place in society and instead wore a tunic of camel’s hair and ate nothing but wild honey and locusts. His ministry featured a baptism of water for the repentance of sins. Like the Jews living in exile in Babylon returning to Jerusalem, the Jews that John baptized for their return to God is declared by “A voice crying out in the wilderness.” His actions even caused the Pharisees and Sadducees to leave Jerusalem, go out into the desert, and observe his ministry. Yet they could not escape John’s wrath and declared to them that unless they produce good fruit and do not use the excuse that they have Abraham for their father they will not be displaying true repentance. John understood very well the necessities that every believer needed to know and love the upcoming arrival of the Messiah.

But by far the greatest distinction between John the Baptist and the other prophets in Sacred Scripture is that while the Prophets longed for the coming of the Messiah, John had known the identity of the Messiah all of his life. When his mother’s cousin, the Blessed Virgin Mary, visited them, he leapt in his mother’s womb upon hearing her voice. John was the one that all the prophets had pointed to be the one would bring the Messiah to the world. Because of that, he is to be considered the greatest of all prophets.

The lives and ministries of Isaiah and John the Baptist lay the foundation for our understanding of the Faith. We hear that in Paul’s letter to the Romans where he says “whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” We see this Advent season as only a four-week respite prior to Christmas day. But these prophets had been anticipating the coming of the Messiah for centuries. Each prophet saw the state of affairs in their lifetimes and understood the necessity for societies need for repentance.

We are at a moment in history that desires each one of us to be repentant in the way we have behaved. It was for this reason that Pope Francis last year instituted a year of mercy. It is why the Early Church continued the practice of Baptism by water for the forgiveness of sins when they welcomed new believers. And it is why the Church, by the proclamation of Jesus after his resurrection, instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They knew then as we know now that in order for us to get closer to God and see him at the moment of our death we must be truly repentant for those actions that had driven us away from him. It is through this time of anticipation that we prepare ourselves for the coming of our Savior here on earth. Let us repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. We await his coming.


Questions for Reflection:

  1. What to the Prophets mean to you in your life? How does their message relate to our society?
  2. Why do you think it was necessary for John the Baptist to live in the desert to announce the       coming of the Messiah?
  3. How do you view sin? How do you think it can be forgiven? Why was it necessary for the Prophets to insist that we have to be repentant in order to be one of God’s followers?

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