First Reading Commentary
The Targum Jonathan is an ancient Hebrew text in which rabbis interpreted passages from the Old Testament. In these rabbinical writings is the following based on this First Reading: "And there shall go forth a king from the sons of Jesse, and the Messiah shall be anointed from his children's children." Thus it is quite clear that the Targum Jonathan identifies this Reading as a prophecy concerning the Messiah. Jesse was the father of King David and therefore, the root of the Davidic line. The Spirit of the Lord, that is to say, the Author of all gifts, shall rest upon Him. This has a twofold meaning: First, it describes the Messiah's eternalness; secondly, it also points to our Lord's baptism in the Jordan in which the Spirit makes an appearance in the form of a dove.
"From Apologetics to New Spirituality: Trends in Jewish Environmental Theology" author Rabbi Lawrence Troster writes: "The Jewish concept of a perfect world is one of harmony among all creatures. This can be seen in the famous vision of Isaiah (Isaiah 11:1-10) in which no creature kills for sustenance and there is no war or injustice in human society. This reconciliation between humanity and the rest of Creation evokes a return to the Garden of Eden." In other words, a return to Paradise; for it is obvious that this Reading is not pointing to yet another prophet whose influence will terminate with his life – but instead points to God Himself since only He can take us from this valley of tears and welcome us in Paradise.
Reading on, the text says that there shall be no harm or ruin on God's holy mountain. In biblical terms God's "holy mountain" is often linked to Moses and the place where he received the Ten Commandments. In the New Testament, however, Saint Peter refers to the mountain of the Transfiguration as the "holy mountain" (cf. 2 Peter 1:18). For purposes of identifying the Messiah, Saint Peter's proclamation really opens up for us the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible is called the Tanakh. It is divided into three sections: The Torah (the first five books), the Nevi'im (the Prophets) and the Ketuviim (the Hagiographa or the Writings). The rabbis of the ancient world taught that when the Messiah comes all three sections of the Hebrew Scriptures would bear witness to Him.
At the Transfiguration the Voice of the Father speaks and says: "This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased – listen to Him." In the Book of Psalms or the Ketuviim section of the Hebrew Bible are the words: "You are My Son" (Psalm 2:7). In Isaiah or the Nevi'im section are these words: "Behold My Servant, I will uphold Him; My chosen One with Whom I am pleased" (Isaiah 42:1). And in Deuteronomy or the Torah section is this passage: "The Lord your God will raise up to you a Prophet of your nation and of your brethren like unto Me; you shall listen to Him" (Deuteronomy 18:15). God our Father shows us that the Messiah is His Son; and also by the words He uses at the Transfiguration concerning His Son fulfills what the ancient rabbis believed and taught.
The slightest hint of what would later be revealed as the Trinity also seems to be present in this First Reading. Jesus is the Word of God striking the ruthless with the rod of His Mouth and slaying the wicked with the Breath of His Lips. "Breath" in spirituality is often synonymous with the Holy Spirit.
Some interesting points in translation: The words "set up as a signal for the nations" in the Latin Vulgate translates as, "stands as an ensign of people"; and that ensign may indicate the Cross which is the universal banner for Christianity. Also, the words "for His dwelling shall be glorious" translate from the Latin Vulgate to mean, "and His sepulcher shall be glorious" which Saint Jerome comments on by adding: "Christ's death was ignominious but His monument was full of glory."
Second Reading Commentary
There are some basics here in Christian morality: Receiving one another with charity, peace and patience as Christ received us, and supporting one another for the glory of God. Jesus was the Minister of the circumcised, Who became Man for the salvation of both the Jews and the Gentiles. He would preach His Gospel first to the Jews to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament that the Messiah would come for their salvation and for the conversion of the Gentiles. Saint Paul refers to Christ as a Minister of the circumcised, who are the Jews, because Jesus lived and preached among them. Jesus lived according to the Law of Moses to work for the greater glory of God among the Jews by showing that God is faithful to His Old Testament promises; and among the Gentiles He was to be the Instrument of God's mercy by including them in the Almighty's plan of salvation. All of this is designed to bring an end to division and make us one, a people of God.
Saint Paul says something to us in the first sentence of great importance, namely that hope comes from the Scriptures. Real hope does not come from CNN, the Wall Street Journal or the local newspaper. Hopefully we're all reading the Word of God on a daily basis. Keep in mind also that Saint Paul speaks of previous writings. For him and those early Christians, this is what we now call the Old Testament. If the story of Jesus is to truly come to life and be a Real Presence and force in our lives, then we have to become familiar with the Old Testament because it all points to Jesus.
Saint Paul also mentions endurance. If you have a daily craving for what is offered by the secular media, you might need endurance to not let it form your belief system. Surely Saint Paul is encouraging us – and even pleading with us to be counter-cultural. Being in harmony with one another, welcoming one another while together glorifying God with one voice - these gems of inspiration are not likely to be found on a daily basis in the secular media. God's Word gives us hope and certainly Advent is a season of hope.
Saint John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the precursor of the New Testament. His desert lifestyle makes him the perfect model for the eremitic way of life. As he was to be the dividing line between the Old and New Testament, his form of baptism was also the dividing line between the Jewish ceremonial bath known as a "mikvah" and Christ's ordination of the Sacrament of Baptism. It has the characteristics of the Jewish ceremonial bath as well as a quasi rebirth. The acceptance of John's form of baptism was an admission that the Kingdom of God was indeed at hand along with a willingness to remedy past faults, thus earning God's grace.
John was certainly the poster boy for fire and brimstone preaching as evidenced by his words to the Pharisees and Sadducees. John's sanctity, life of mortification and preaching must have had a tremendous impact among the people, hence explaining their willingness to receive his baptism. In our modern day, the example of John the Baptist screams at us daring us to be different, to be counter-cultural, and to follow Christ in a radical way.
John warns the Pharisees and Sadducees that they can't hide behind having Abraham as a father. Using that same argument, let us reflect on our own lives. Can we indict ourselves for not being fully Christian? The Baptizer might say to us today: "Don't tell me you're a Christian because you go to church once a week!" Christianity is not about fulfilling obligations. Christianity is a way of life – and when considering the conditions of our modern day world – Christianity is a radical way of life.
John continues by saying that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from the stones. In the old law, stones were an instrument of death. Our Savior's instrument of death was the Cross; and from His death God raised up children He would call His very own.
John proclaims his baptism for repentance but there will be One Who will come after him Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Here John intimates about the Divinity of Jesus. Interesting also is that this is exactly what happened at Pentecost reminding us that among other things John the Baptist was indeed a prophet.
John the Baptist also states that he is not worthy to carry the sandals of Jesus. This statement would have been very understandable to the people of his day because it was customary for a slave to carry a change of sandals for his master. Therefore, John, in complete humility proclaims his unworthiness to even be a slave for Jesus Christ. In a way, like John the Baptist, we are called to be precursors ourselves. We are the children of God set apart to proclaim the glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ by the example of our lives; helping each other by word and deed, heralding Jesus as the Way and only Way to eternal salvation - a gift we are sent to proclaim while at the same time being fully aware of our unworthiness to be recipients of it.