Advent Reflections: The Coming of the Messianic Age
[Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.]
By Bruce Whitener
Isaiah 4: 2-6
John 1: 6-13
Acts 10: 9-16
The passage contained in Isaiah 4: 2-6 describes the future Messianic Age of the Messiah, and is in almost every biblical precursor of the nativity (and this lectionary is no exception). If you read the book of Isaiah, you will find this example unusual, as it appears abruptly following dire warnings from the prophet concerning the future of Israel. In contrast to the warnings, it is unmistakably a message of peace and forgiveness.
The second lectionary, written by an unknown author, seeks to make a distinction between John the Baptizer and the coming Messiah. The author apparently thought that the enormous crowds and wide popularity of John the Baptizer would lead his followers to believe he was the coming Messiah.
John the Baptizer was the son of Zachary. He lived as a hermit in the desert of Judea until he was 30, when he began to preach on the banks of the Jordan against the evils of the times. He called his audiences to penance and baptism, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand." He attracted large crowds, and when Christ came to him, John recognized him as the Messiah and baptized him, saying, “It is I who need baptism from you." When Christ left to preach in Galilee, John continued preaching in the Jordan valley. Fearful of his great popularity with the people, Herod had him arrested and imprisoned. John was beheaded at the request of Salome, daughter of Herodias, who asked for his head at the instigation of her mother. John inspired many of his followers to follow Christ when he designated him “the Lamb of God”— among them Andrew and John, who came to know Christ through John’s preaching. As such, John is presented in the New Testament as the last of the Old Testament prophets and the precursor of the Messiah.
The third and final lectionary reading concerns a story in Acts 10, in which Saint Peter had a vision of a canopy full of animals being lowered from heaven. A voice from heaven told Peter to kill and eat, but since the sheet contained unclean animals, Peter declined. The command was repeated two more times, along with the voice saying, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common," and then the sheet was taken back to heaven (Acts 10:16). At this point in the narrative, messengers sent from Cornelius the Centurion arrive and urge Peter to go with them. He does so, and mentions the vision as he speaks to Cornelius, saying "God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean."
Merciful God, who sent your messengers, the prophets,
To preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
That we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer;
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and forever!
Bruce Whitener is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.
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