Second Sunday of Advent: The Sunday of Peace December 08, 2019
Isaiah 11:1-10 Psalms 72 Romans 15:1-13 Matthew 3:1-12
This week, the second Sunday of Advent, is designated as the Sunday of Peace. As I said last Sunday, the readings look both backwards & forward, in anticipation to the birth of Christ. First, they speak of the foretelling of this wonderful event. Secondly, they reveal what has already been made manifest; that is, the birth of the Saviour of the world 2000 years ago in the manger in Bethlehem. And lastly, the readings point towards that final day, the kingdom realized, when every tear will be wiped away. Together, they form a continuum. Each, in turn, encourages us to anticipate a time of great Hope, lasting Peace, eternal Joy and undying Love.
We are directed each year to retell the stories. Can anybody tell me why? It is so that we will never loose heart, even though life may be very difficult for us...and as I said last Sunday, sometimes very distracting. This retelling of the salvation history was the ancient Hebrew way of ensuring that the memory of who they were, how they arrived at a certain point in history, and what God said was in store for the world in the future would not be lost. So that these things would not be lost, the stories were told over and over again, in what for them was an oral society. The majority of the population did not read or write.
The stories we tell each year serve much the same purpose. Our lives are much easier than most of theirs were, but we get much more distracted, more easily. The apostle Paul said, Romans 15:4, "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures." Things that we find in the word are eternal and need to be valued and maintained...so, they need to be told.
Our forefathers greatly valued scripture for the encouragement factor. In Preaching the Common Lectionary Advent Commentary, Carl Holiday, notes that, "Early Christians read the Jewish Scriptures in terms of promise and fulfillment." He said that "the purpose of the scripture was to reveal God's promises and how they had already been fulfilled. "God's fidelity in keeping those promises provided the source of encouragement." Scripture demonstrated God's faithfulness and deposited hope for the fulfillment of those promises not yet come to completion. The scriptures Paul is referring to, of course, in that verse from Romans 13 are what we know today as the Old Testament...and specifically the prophetic word, like that we heard declared this morning in Isaiah and the Psalms.
Keeping that in mind, I would now like us to turn our attention to the Isaiah prophesy from chapter 11 that is our assigned reading for the day. And as with the scripture from last Sunday, the reading contains prophesy that has already been fulfilled, and that for which we wait in anticipation.
The Israelites looked over and over for a righteous king in the line of David. The Saviour that we know and celebrate would never have even been under consideration for them. In their minds, the Messiah has, out of necessity, to be a mighty and righteous human king who would, during his reign, bring about and age of holiness, prosperity and peace. They looked with longing for each new anointed son of the Davidic house to fulfill this vision. However, being broken and fallen human beings, king after king failed them. Monarch after monarch accepted the mantle and then turned away from God to build his own power, wealth and might at the expense of the people...some of them with almost unbelievable malevolent and wicked behaviour!
God's response to this callous disregard for the oppressed is found in the first couple of verses of the previous chapter. Isaiah 10:1-2, "Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!" Throughout most of the prophetic word we find this connection between righteousness and justice, between holiness and concern for those who are the most vulnerable in society. The sign of the new age, the righteous rule, the days of peace, will be the fruit that it bears. Isaiah 11:1, "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit."
It doesn't come out of the fibre of a mighty tree. It doesn't issue forth from a position of power, but from the broken stump. This might well have been the first indication to the Israelites that their expectation for a mighty righteous human king would not be fulfilled. Had they been paying attention; they might have known to look in a different direction for God's will to be made manifest.
These are the attributes of the Messiah from God's perspective. Isaiah 11:2-3, "And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear," All of these attributes are fulfilled in the person of Jesus. At his baptism the Spirit descended upon him. His counsel was inspired and delivered with powerful healings and deliverance. Jesus was not impressed with the majesty of the Temple or the intelligence and false piety of its priests, but instead taught his followers to be servants, humble before each other and especially before the Lord who created and sustained them.
Throughout Jesus' ministry, against established norms and expectations, he constantly demonstrated God's preferential option for those the rest of society would reject. Isaiah 11:4, "...but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked." Jesus was powerful enough to have claimed position with the rulers of his society. He could have sought privilege and deference, but he did not. The Psalmist said of the coming king, Psalm 72:4, "He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor." The first part of that prophesy was begun in Jesus earthly ministry. The last part will be completed at the second coming.
Jesus stood with those who were in the greatest need, the lepers & whores, the widows, the orphan children, the derelict and lost, the blind, lame and spiritually broken and possessed. We, who call ourselves by his name, who wish to be identified as a part of Jesus' family and participants of this new kingdom, must out of necessity do the same. To do anything else while claiming his name is a betrayal of what Jesus came to do.
The challenge issued by John the Baptist to the crowd of Pharisees and rulers of the Temple who gathered at the Jordan to see what he was up to, is as applicable to us in this day as it was to them in theirs. In Matthew 3:8, We are called upon to, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance." The fruit in keeping with repentance recognizes the bankrupt nature of the world's measure of success, of our own measures of success...which are power, influence and wealth. Instead it takes on the mantle of God's measure, which is humility, righteousness and justice for the widows and children, the poor and oppressed.
When we behave in this way, in answer to the call of the Gospel and as we declare the prophesy and promises to be true, kingdom rule is demonstrated in this age and hope for the future is given to a new generation. As we show the love of Christ in our care for the poor, the broken, the widows and orphans, confidence in the fidelity of God's word, God's promises is established...and when the lost read of the world to come, it brings a peace to their hearts, because they know there is something better in store for them. It leads them to Christ. When this happens, our words and actions speak the same message.
Let me bring this out of the hypothetic and into the real world, our world today. There is a group of people in the Upper Fraser Valley for whom this season of the year is especially difficult. Many single mothers, some of whom have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet, have no extra income out of which to celebrate Christmas. There are many ministries in our communities which connect single parent families with those who have the ability to help out. A Church community, a home-group or even an individual family could supply Christmas dinner, work with the Mom to buy gifts for her children....and who knows, perhaps even establish a relationship which would help this person into a better quality of life. Single moms are often so overworked they don't have time to build friendships and relationships outside their work environments. I think that this is the Gospel promises realized. If you think you might be able to help in this way, please see me following the service.
Finally, here is a vision of the world that Christ came to create. Isaiah 11:6, "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them." This is an image of a radical change in the nature of the world. The animals are symbols of the power structures of society. Whereas in the present reality, the carnivores destroy and consume the weak, in the new redeemed reality, they will be equal.
The poison will not strike the helpless and vulnerable. Isaiah 11:8, "The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest." Peace will reign upon the earth. Isaiah 11:9, "They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea."
That is the end state, the kingdom completed, the promise of the future. But as I said last Sunday, we live in the in between time, as the kingdom of heaven has been made manifest by Jesus coming, but not yet completed. In the end, there will be no need for rescue, no need for the righteous poor to be delivered from affliction, because every tear will be wiped away.
But that time is not yet. The Lord set us a task and given us an example of what we are to be about in the mean time. We are his body, the church, and are to be Jesus hands and heart here in the world. The Psalmist prophesied about this in between time.
Psalm 72:12-14, "For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight."
We are to see the poor and the broken through his eyes, and they are to be as precious to us as they are to Him.
Please pray with me....