Frances writes on the Readings for Advent 2 :- These all speak to a longing for a reformed world, and bearing in mind the present unsavoury state of so many things, this is surely something profoundly necessary.
First Isaiah (Isa 11:1-10) of the 8th century BCE was reflecting on the invasion of his country by the Assyrians which he put down to the infidelity of his people as they turned to the gods of the peoples round about. His complaint here seems to focus specifically on the injustice practised upon the poor, and for the need for radical reform at the top. In their hour of need, Isaiah turns once more to the House of Jesse, the father of King David; and obviously longs for a return to those glory days when things seemed to have been going so well. But what is really interesting is how he relates that time to the first creation story, the one placed second in Genesis but actually dating back to the time of David or even earlier. What we see in this world was that it was a vegetarian creation, one in which the country’s top carnivores did not hunt weaker animals, and one where small children were immune from harm; and he focuses this time of universal peace on Jerusalem. From these not so subtle comments we can deduce that things were not going at all well in Jerusalem, at least in the mind of Isaiah, who we think was martyred for his pains. The fact is that the work of this prophet, a writer of stunning beauty, and one who was so opposed to the status quo in Jerusalem, is highly significant. The court itself had many prophets and writers, mostly employed to sing the praises of the reigning king and the establishment, but we do not hear from them. Posterity has not salvaged their work but rather saved that of someone who vigorously opposed the system, and one moreover who perceived the situation to be so dire that he went right back to a story of the creation to achieve his ends. Clearly First Isaiah believed things so desperate that nothing short of a wholesale re-making of the world was necessary.
The compilers of our lectionary have deliberately chosen this passage as part of the prelude to the Incarnation. God in Christ has re-made the world, his birth speaks to a wholly new order, one in which God reconciles himself to fallen humanity through his Son. It is once again about a story of our re-creation, once more we are to become what we were made for and intended to be by the creator.
This is perhaps why Matthew (3:1-12) gives such a vivid description of the Baptist. It is not that John had a penchant for weird dressing or an odd diet but much more significantly, that he returns John to a primeval hunter-gatherer society, he dresses in animal skins and eats what he can gather from the wilderness. He is neither part of a farming community nor a city dweller, but something which harks back to a very different age, one in which people were considered innocent. He wants us to recognise the absolute difference between John and the mass of the people, and the Pharisees and Sadducees; for it is only as such that he can be the prophetic witness to the dawning new age in Christ. Matthew, who reflected on the coming to be in time of the Messiah in the age of the Augustan peace, was determined to make clear what a dramatic and radical event the coming of Christ would be for the world; and as a mere sandal carrier John has vividly demonstrated both the dramatic nature of this shift and embodied it in his very person by deliberately becoming as a slave – insignificant.
It rests with Paul (Romans 15:4-9) to root this for us. For St Paul, as we learn from his letters, was given the job of helping the new and intensely fragile Christian communities scattered around the Mediterranean to embody or live out the meaning of our re-creation wherever and whenever we are. For most of us, most of the time this is quite a tall order, yet one he believed possible under grace as we study the scriptures. His call is for tolerance, or as the Greek has it, for being of ‘one accord’, which is not quite the same thing; for Paul will continually refer us back to Christ. We, as he puts it in 1 Corinthians, are those who ‘have the mind of Christ’. That studying of the scriptures is and must be a lifelong journey in which we are continually open to God’s great work of re-creation in each and every heart.