Weekly Meditation: 4th December 2016

Isaiah 11:1-10

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12

The Advent Bible readings contain a lot of promises. Isaiah 11:1 foretells a descendent (‘a shoot’) from Jesse, the father of King David.  As a king’s heir he too will reign, but in a way that no earthly king has ever reigned. He will be filled with wisdom and understanding, with counsel and power, with knowledge and the fear of the Lord (11:2-3). His judgment will not be diverted, but will be carried out with righteousness to the benefit of the poor and needy (11:3-5). Isaiah describes his reign in terms of earthly peace, with a tranquil state even between animals that are natural enemies – wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, lions and calves (11:6). There will be nothing to cause harm or destruction because the whole earth will be ‘full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (11:9).

Psalm 72 speaks in similarly extravagant terms of a king; King Solomon, it appears. Solomon was the successor to his father David, endowed with wisdom from the Lord (see 1 Kings 3:5-28). His reign over Israel was long and glorious. However, he achieved nothing as ambitious as what is set out in Psalm 72. As the psalm progresses, it is clear that it is speaking of one who is far greater than Solomon. ‘All nations will serve him’ (72:11). He will ‘deliver the needy who cry out ... take pity on the weak’ (72:12-13). The land will flourish with peace and prosperity (72:14-16). His name will ‘endure for ever ... as long as the sun’ (72:17). The Psalm is, in reality, a preview of the Kingdom, and of its king, Jesus Christ.

It was this Kingdom that John the Baptist heralded. Preparing the way for the Messiah, he warned that ‘the Kingdom of heaven is near’ (Matthew 3:2). In commanding the people to repent (3:2,8) he baptised all who responded, telling them of one who was to come who would ‘baptise with Holy Spirit and fire’ (3:11) and who would bring judgment.

All this is written ‘to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope’ (Romans 15:4). In writing to the Romans, Paul sought to draw the church together in unity, and to prepare them for endurance. Probably he did not foresee the degree of persecution that was to fall upon the Roman church under the rule of Nero, but he nevertheless saw the value in the church being united in belief and love. In encouraging them he referred to Isaiah’s prophecy of the descendent of Jesse who would give hope to Jews and Gentiles (Isaiah 11:10; Romans 15:12).

Christians are sometimes accused of waiting for ‘pie in the sky’, of looking only to some distant and unspecified future. It is true that the peace, spoken of by Isaiah and by the angels who announced Christ’s birth (see Luke 2:14) has not yet manifested itself on earth. Nor is the Kingdom, proclaimed by John the Baptist, visibly established. Christians know of God’s peace in their hearts, however; they know of the calm certainty that they can have in facing life’s trials, and they believe God’s Kingdom is reigning wherever God’s will is done. This is the promise that we can carry throughout the Advent season.

 Susan Thorne