The Promise of Peace

1st Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 2:1-5 and 11:1-9
1 December 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                         
It is easy this time of year to find decorations, wall hangings, ornaments, and cards, all announcing peace.   But do we really stop to think what an audacious thing it is to announce peace when anyone can look around and see, there is no peace.   There is no peace when children are still suffering hunger and want.  There is no peace when countries are still torn apart by warfare and greed.  There is no peace when families and friends are grieving losses, or struggling with the effects of addiction or estrangement.  

There is no complete peace, but in Advent we dare to dream of peace and to announce peace.   We give ourselves permission to imagine a world at peace, a community at peace, a home at peace.   And this year, a worshiping and serving community, dares to plant a church named Peace on a piece of land, in a great act of trust, believing that Christ will bring peace, asserting that is worth our money, time, and energy to prepare for that peace by building a place where we and others might be blessed by inspiring worship, authentic relationships, nurturing discipleship, compassionate outreach, and responsive stewardship..   On this peaceful site, where the ibis and the raccoon and the deer dwell together, we have been working hard to renovate while we think of all the new people who will surely come to be at peace with us, to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others. 

Advent is a time for waiting, for longing, and for trusting in the sure promise of peace, even when we cannot see it clearly, for working for it, even when building bridges and breaking down walls is difficult.   Paul tells us Christ is our peace.   He has broken down all the barriers that divide us.   Before Paul, Isaiah imagined the world into which God’s peace would come and transform enemies into allies, foes into friends, and strangers into supportive companions.

Hear with me this vision of the prophet, who wrote at a time of great political turmoil in the southern kingdom of Judah, around the turn of the 7th century before Christ.   In the first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah, there are four key themes:  God’s holy and sovereign power, Jerusalem as the chosen city, David’s household as the elect dynasty, and the preservation of a faithful remnant.   We are reading two Advent lessons which promise peace.   The first reading is best known by the last verse:    They shall beat their swords into plowshores and the spears into pruning hooks.   Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.   The second reading is best known by its image of the all the animals living in peace together – often summarized by the one image of the lion lying down with the lamb.  The promise of peace from the prophet Isaiah:
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.    Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways  and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more…

11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.  He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.  The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.   (New Revised Standard Version)
The political situation of Jerusalem is dominated by a “stump.”  The longing, the imagination of  Israel is powered by “the spirit.” The crisis of Israel’s present and Israel’s future is the deep conflict and contest between the stump and the spirit. The “stump” is the “stump of Jesse” (Isa.11:1). Allusion to Jesse, father of David, refers us to the dynastic line of David’s family, believed to be the carrier of God’s goodness and God’s faithfulness in the world. That dynasty, however, had come on very hard times. The “stump” symbolizes a situation of despair and resignation.   (Walter Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching: Lectionary Commentary on Year A, p. 11)

What is the stump in our time?   Have we lost hope in the American dream?   Perhaps that dream has been too rooted in American notions of success than American notions of service for the sake of others. And what about you in your own personal struggles?  Have you lost hope in the promise of peace?  What is God trying to show you, to teach you in your present turmoil?   What we see in  Isaiah is the promise of God’s life-giving Spirit when despair was rampant. 

This Spirit, this “wind of God” is powerful, irresistible, and beyond human control. The prophet announces that the wind has come to blow over the stump.  We tend to see only what is there – the stump, not what can be, the shoot bringing promise by the power of the Spirit.   Notice, church family, the power of the Spirit at work in the life of this church, bringing us to this exciting day full of promise.  There’s a lot more to do, but there’s sure promise for Peace.  Whether you recovering from something, grieving, or experiencing challenges of any kind, you can see the glass half empty or half full.  

You can see a stretched budget and so many needs, or you can do as so many have done and give time, money, energy to fulfill needs.  Same with all the troubled regions of the world where warfare seems unending, where human trafficking is ruining the lives of children and teens, where greed rules and the weak suffer indignities unimaginable.  We can despair and see only the stump or we can pray with hope for peace, sending gifts to those suffering after the typhoon, or taking angels from the tree to buy for impoverished farmworker families in our neighboring county.  

It is easy to fall into despair, but we are the people of Peace, who are charged to remember the promises of God.   And we, because we have come so far in our short history as a new church, we of all people should be able to trust in God’s promises.

The spirit will prevail over the stump! The wind will win, for the stump is not mentioned again in the passage. What is promised is a new peaceful creation, in which the brutality is tamed and the deathliness is overcome.  The oldest of enemies—wolf-lamb, leopard-kid, calf-lion, cow-bear, lion-ox—are made friends. We thought it wasn’t possible, but the spirit of God has transformed death to life.  Sound familiar – death to life.  In the midst of this peaceful transformation, three times a child is mentioned: “a little child” (v. 6), “the nursing child,” “the weaned child” (v. 8). The little child may be the new shoot of Jesse who will preside over new creation. More broadly, “the little child” bespeaks the birth of a new innocence in which trust, gentleness, and friendship are possible and appropriate.  (Brueggemann, as above)

The world will be ordered, so that the fragile and vulnerable can have their say and live their lives.  The new possibilities depend on the spirit – the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of knowledge and deep respect for God.   That wind of the Spirit is blowing, blowing hard this week at Peace. The little child who comes to us at Christmas, the one for whom we now wait, is the one who is God’s promised peace, a peace fully present, even though the peace he brings is not fully realized.   He was the embodiment of this Spirit described here.

In Advent’s new beginnings we can sink down into the stump as victims of all the hard knocks of live or we choose to trust the new winds of Christ’s spirit and shoot up with confidence against the hopelessness of the this stumpy world.   Believe in the promise of peace that Jesus Christ brings this world.  Believe it and live it, people of Peace.  Believe it, live it, and rejoice in it.  Immanuel is coming to you.   He is the promise of peace.