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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

So when the prophet speaks about the earth being filled with the knowledge of Yahweh, he’s basically sharing his conviction that all of us one day will experience Yahweh’s presence in everything and everyone we encounter.


Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3:1-12

By far, the most important section of today’s Isaiah reading is the line, “. . . The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of Yahweh as water covers the sea.” But the key to appreciating its importance revolves around being aware of the ancient Hebrew meaning of the words “knowledge” or “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 just having a casual familiarity with persons or things, 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 pericope, “How can this be since I do not know man?” – it usually implies sexual intimacy.

So when the prophet speaks about the earth being filled with the knowledge of Yahweh, he’s basically sharing his conviction that all of us one day will experience Yahweh’s presence in everything and everyone 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.

Yet at this point in salvation history (8th century BCE), Isaiah is still locked into the Jewish monarchy. He believes it’s through one of the country’s kings that Yahweh’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 way, it’s from this passage that we got six of the seven gifts of the Spirit we had to memorize in our Confirmation classes, not from any of Paul’s lists of the Spirit’s gifts!)

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 Yahweh was going to step outside the reigning monarchy and send a special “Messiah” who would usher in this longed-for day and age. That’s why Matthew’s John the Baptizer is forced to set people straight, emphatically informing them he’s not that special person; he’s just preparing the way for him.

But 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. 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 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 the oneness between Gentiles and Jews. Jesus’ ministry of helping people recognize God working in all people has made it possible to experience God in all people, even in natural enemies.

Often, especially during Advent, it seems we’re still passively expecting God to enter our lives, instead of being committed to living the way Jesus of Nazareth thought necessary to recognize that God’s already here. Perhaps a change in our value system is simply too much to expect.


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