FROM A READING FOR DEC. 4, SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
'Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God...' -- Romans 15:7

By far, the most important section of Sunday's Isaiah (11:1-10) reading is the line, "The Earth shall be filled with the knowledge of Yahweh as water covers the sea." The key to appreciating its importance revolves around the ancient Hebrew meaning of the words "knowledge" and "know."

Our biblical authors normally employ "know" or "knowledge" when they're talking about a person actually experiencing someone or something. It implies a far deeper relationship than a casual familiarity like, "I know the times tables," or, "I know him when I see him." When the word is biblically used in the context of men and women "knowing" one another (as in "Adam knew his wife, Eve," or, in Luke's annunciation passage, "How can this be, since I do not know man?"), it usually implies sexual intimacy.

When the prophet speaks about the Earth being filled with the knowledge of Yahweh, he's sharing his conviction that all of us, one day, will experience God's presence in everything we encounter. God will be as much a part of us as water is a part of the sea. For those who have that God-experience, everything will change; even natural enemies will become friends.

Gifts of Spirit
Yet, at this point in salvation history (eighth century BCE), Isaiah is still locked into the Jewish monarchy. He believes it's through one of the country's kings that God's presence eventually will become an everyday experience. That's why he spends so much time enumerating the gifts such a unique sprout from the stump of Jesse will possess.

By the time Jesus of Nazareth was about to begin His public ministry, most Jews had given up on one particular king creating an ideal, God-present age. A few centuries before this itinerant preacher shuttered His Capernaum carpenter shop, they started to believe God was going to step outside the reigning monarchy and send a special "Messiah" who would usher in this longed-for day and age.

John the Baptizer is forced to set people straight (Matthew 3:1-12), emphatically informing them he's not that special person; he's just preparing the way for Him.

Even if we believe Jesus is the Messiah, we can never forget His basic "stump speech." He's not going to bring about God's presence; He's simply announcing that God is already present.

Kingdom is here
Remember the first words of His public ministry: "The kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe in the Good News!" In other words, "Why are you still waiting for something that's already here? You simply have to change your value system and you'll notice God working effectively in your everyday lives!"

Our earliest Christian writer, Paul, presumes (Romans 15:4-9) his readers in Rome have already gone through such a value-changing repentance. The eyes through which they filter everything happening around them constantly surface God's presence and actions.

That's why, as Isaiah prophesied, they can experience the unity between people who traditionally were opposed to one another, especially Gentiles and Jews. Jesus' ministry has made it possible to experience God in all people, even in natural enemies.

Especially during Advent, it seems we're still passively expecting God to enter our lives, instead of being committed to living the way Jesus thought necessary to recognize that God's already here.