Lectionary Readings: Is 26:1-6 / Ps 72 / Rom 15:4-9 / Mt 3:1-12
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Is 40:3, Mt 3:3) These words of the prophet Isaiah are echoed again in Matthew’s Gospel today. The theme of preparation is apparent in the lectionary readings of the first two weeks of Advent. While it is obvious that the readings are geared towards the preparation of the season of Christmas, these readings provide us not with aggressive warnings, but rather gentle messages, reminders on how to prepare the “way of the Lord”, and in our context, for the second coming of Jesus when he comes the second time in glory.
Throughout Advent, the figure of the prophet Isaiah comes up very often. If we examine the readings of Advent, it is hopefully evident that Jesus is the one Isaiah prophesizes. This is further reinforced in the lectionary readings of Lent, especially in the Liturgy of Good Friday in the reading of the Fourth Canticle of the Servant of God. The prophet Isaiah does not use a single image to prophesize Jesus but rather, a variety of images. In today’s first reading, Isaiah portrays Jesus as “a shoot” that “shall come out from the stump of Jesse”. Jesus meets this criteria as we know that Jesus is a descendant of King David and Jesse is David’s father.
The verse following is intriguing, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him.” (Is 11:2) This is indeed what Jesus himself says to the people at the start of his public ministry in Luke chapter 4, as Jesus stands up to read the passage handed to him in the synagogue which comes from the book of Isaiah, chapter 61, which reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Lk 4:18). After reading, Jesus goes on to confirm what Isaiah has prophesied, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:21)
Isaiah brings up the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the rest of verse 2. Can you recall what the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are? They are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These gifts have been poured upon us in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Yet, why are these gifts brought up here? Today’s passage from Isaiah should serve as a compass that will help us fulfill what St. John is asking of us in Matthew’s Gospel this week, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mt 3:2)
It is not possible for us to repent, and recognize our failings if we do not let the gifts of the Holy Spirit to dwell work within us. We can make tons of excuses for our wrongdoings. Yet, are we willing to change? St. John Chrysostom, one of the Church Fathers said, “The Jews were senseless, and had never any feeling of their own sins, but while they were justly accountable for the worst evils, they were justifying themselves in every respect; and this more than anything caused their destruction, and led them away from the faith” (Chrysostom homily on Mt 10). We all should strive to be repentant people. True repentance requires one to recognize one’s wrongdoing and determination to amend one’s life.
To repent is to “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” That is what the people who came to John the Baptist for baptism sought. They recognized that they were sinners and came to John for the baptism of repentance, an outward sign that they were willing to amend their lives. They did so because they not only wanted to live as people of righteousness, but it was so that through that path of righteousness that they would be prepared for the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour whom they awaited from generation to generation. They were preparing the path for the descendant of King David, they were preparing way of the Lord .
We too must “ready the way” of the Lord for his second coming. That means repenting for our sins and using the gifts of the Holy Spirit that have poured out upon us. By doing so, we are preparing for the second coming of Christ, because, “on that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his swelling shall be glorious.” (Is 11:10)