In the Lectionary

Sunday, December 5, 2010: Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

On this second Sunday of Advent, perhaps the paraments should be red rather than blue or purple. Red has become our Holy Spirit hue, the liturgical color that accompanies occasions of heightened concentration on pneumatological presence and power. Hanging red isn't like firing a signal flare, as if the Spirit has suddenly been glimpsed after a long absence or concealment. It is more like getting the lighting and camera angle just right in order to see more clearly something that is going on all the time. In Isaiah's vision, the Baptist's harangue and Paul's benediction, it is time for the Holy Spirit to arrive.

Frankly, I was caught flat-footed this year. Advent always feels like the Spirit is on holiday, resting up for the baptism of the Lord. Advent's energy has largely been the tensive relation between the God who promises to come and the Promise who comes as God-with-us. What is unnamed and unnoticed in that relation of promise and fulfillment, and in our Advent worship and hymnody, is the timely working of the Holy Spirit.

Yet here in these passages there are promises of the Spirit's arrival into the midst of our violence, division and sin. The Spirit resting on Jesse's shoot portends that the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord (Isaiah); the Spirit given to Christ's church will inspire Jews and gentiles to sing joyful praises to God's name (Romans); the Spirit with which Messiah baptizes will convert Israel to God (Matthew). Don't miss the trinitarian logic of hope here: the Holy Spirit draws Christ (and his people and his creation) to the Father.