Our readings for the Second Sunday in Advent have us looking forward to the Messiah. “Messiah” means “anointed one,” and this is the one anointed with the Spirit of God. The Messiah is prophet, priest, and king: he speaks the truth, reconciles the people with God, and makes order in the earth.
The first thing to see in Isaiah 11 is the spirit that rests on the Messiah: “the spirit of the Lord” – the Holy Spirit – “a spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and strength, of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.” Because of this Spirit, he will judge “not by appearance nor by hearsay” – not with the shallow judgments of fallen man – but with the insight of God’s Holy Spirit. A prophet and king who sees the truth.
Thus he will bring justice, set things in right order: because he sees truly, with the Spirit of God. Isaiah – like Pope Francis! – emphasizes how this especially serves the poor, who are always the worst victims of injustice. The just one will treat them right.
This Holy Spirit of the Messiah, by the way, is the same Spirit he sends to us: that we too might see rightly and judge justly.
The long reading from Isaiah goes on to the famous discourse about the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid, the calf and the lion, etc. There are two ways we can read this.
One is that it is an extended metaphor, further developing the theme of human justice. The Just One is so good that he will reconcile those who are most opposed, the most unlikely enemies. So good that even those who are like wolves will no longer oppress those who are like lambs. He will create a truly just and peaceful world.
Another way to read this is that a just order among men will even bring justice to the natural world. Consider Genesis: “The LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15), but when Adam sinned, God said, “cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shall thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee” (Gen. 3:17-18). Man’s role in the world is so fundamental that even the natural order depends on the goodness of the gardener.
In either case, the point is an extended meditation on justice, on the beauty of a truly just order. And a recognition that only the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Messiah, can bring that justice. Come, Lord Jesus!
The reading from Romans gives a more priestly, religious angle to the same teaching. Again, God “grants us to think in harmony with one another.” But here it is so that “with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The justice of the Just One gives us harmony with one another precisely by bringing us into harmony with God.
This is the perfection of Israel. It is not that God gave up on the Old Testament thing and then moved on. No, he is completing that work. Jesus came among the nation of Israel “to show God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises to the patriarchs,” to build up and perfect that religious nation. But he did it in such a way as to bring us all in: all nations shall flow into Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2).
The holy nation expands into the universal Catholic Church. All the promises to Israel are perfected in that worldwide kingdom, with Christ its head, joined in peace and in praising God. Or at least, the Church on earth is the beginning of the final perfection of the kingdom of God.
So good is the Messiah, the just one, the one anointed by the Spirit of God!
Finally, the Gospel gives us another angle on this kingdom with John the Baptist. John is a figure of repentance; baptism is a figure of repentance. And John warns us that if we are to follow the Just One, we must be just, we must truly join into his ways: “prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight his paths!”
But this is not our work. As he judges justly by the Holy Spirit, so to do we: “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” He will raise up the holy people.
How can we better hunger and thirst for God’s justice this Advent season?