Peace Presbyterian Church
Isaiah 11:1-10 & Matthew 3:1-11 2nd Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth M. Deibert 4 December 2016
As we move through Advent, the preparation for Christmas, we go from the hope of a second coming in the first Sunday to the call to peace in the second Sunday of Advent. Peace comes from developing a holy imagination with the visionary prophet Isaiah and cultivating a repentant heart and humble desire to live rightly, which comes from the forerunning prophet John the Baptist.
The first reading from Isaiah is typically called the “The Peaceable Kingdom” In this messianic text, we hear described the reign of a descendent of Jesse, as the favorite King David was. This new age will be led by one uniquely suited for the role by having wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and humble reverence for God. Notice how this peaceful leader is eagerly attentive to please God. For that’s what fear of the Lord means –humble reverence, desire to please God. This one is not swayed by what he sees and hears, but is guided by right attitudes toward the poor and decision-making that shows preference to the weak. Because of his faithfulness, the wolf, the leopard, and the lion can live with the baby goat, calf, and the lamb. Children can play with poisonous snakes. Embrace this vision. Isaiah 11:1-10
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 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. 3 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; 4 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. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6 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. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. 9 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. 10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. (NRS)
Our second reading is the story of Jesus’ cousin John, preparing the way for him by calling on the people to repent, to believe in the messianic hope that they had heard from Isaiah. John quotes another part of Isaiah’s writing when he says, “Prepare the way. Make straight his paths.” John’s message, rather lion-like in tone, is compelling. People are coming to be baptized, confessing their sin. And John is not shy about calling out hypocrisy when he sees it. He does not want the Pharisees and Sadducees, who thought so highly of themselves, who cared more about appearing holy and strong than about right living and justice for the weak and despairing. They cared more about being seen as religious than about truly loving other people.
John was not interested in blessing that kind of shallowness. He wanted them to know that it is God who gifts us grace and peace. These things are not earned by outward religious behavior but developed in the humble disciplines of those who are grateful to God. John himself, with all the crowds rallying around him, begging for the blessing of his baptism, humbly stated that he was not worthy to carry the sandals of the one coming after him. Hear John’s startling call to righteousness:
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" 4 Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Mat 3:1 NRS)
Peace is a gift from God which involves our developing a holy imagination with the visionary prophet Isaiah and cultivating a repentant heart and humble desire to live rightly with the forerunning prophet John the Baptist. Peace and righteousness go hand in hand. Pope John Paul rightly said, “If you want peace, work for justice.”
And believe it or not, all of that ties together in a baptism. For what do we have but parents with a holy imagination, longing for their children’s peace-filled future, and a church, godparents, and grandparents coming alongside the parents to promise together to help the children build humble hearts and a desire to live rightly, knowing the love of God that has been poured into their hearts, since long before they were ever conceived. A baptism is cheapened if it is only a wish for peace with no effort to live as God calls. Likewise, an effort to live a good life needs the blessing of Christ’s peace, the holy gift of God’s grace that baptism signifies and seals. This holy gift of blessing ushers us into the already and not yet peaceful place of Christ.
So with these two scriptures and with these four children, we see that peace and righteousness go hand in hand. Emmett and Maggie can want peace for their children, but if they do not teach them the way to live rightly, they can be guaranteed to have no peace. Notice that I am not promising that if they teach them the way to live that it automatically guarantees peace, as in the absence of suffering. Because we know that suffering is a natural part of this life – it is how we learn the justice, the fairness that is part of righteousness. It’s how we learn to feel reality.
(slide) As the Velveteen Rabbit would say, “You’re only real, after a long while. By then your hair has been loved off.” In suffering the lion in us learns the sacrifice of a lamb. Peace is not the absence of conflict or suffering. No. Peace is what you have when you can walk through the dark trusting God. Peace is when you have the courage to love til your fur is rubbed off. Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the ability to walk through the trouble with hope and faith and resiliency.
(slide)All of us want peace, but how does peace come, except by the struggle of lions learning not to consume lambs, and lambs learning to trust lions. Kids learning to share and wait their turn and listen to others. Lions learning to contain their frightening roar, and lambs learning not to follow the flock blindly or wander off to dangerous places, unaware. Wandering lambs are more likely to be consumed by hungry lions. The vulnerable lamb needs to learn to follow the guidance of the Shepherd, to stay with the flock. For now the Van Aken children have parental shepherds and godparents, grandparents, and a church guiding them in the right paths. But as they grow and gain the power and voice of young adult lions, we hope they will choose to follow the Great Lion and the Sacrificial Lamb, the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. He is the One in whom all things were made and through whom all of us are saved. He is the One who showed us that power can be made perfect in weakness. He said, “No has greater love than this – to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15) Jesus Christ came into the world in weakness like us, and he died a death of voluntary weakness, after being attacked by the power-hungry lions of his day. But power of death could not hold him. He has promised that peace will be the final outcome. He is the Lion and the lamb, calling us to be like him. (slide)
Living into Christ’s peace, even while we live this life with all its struggles requires vision or you might say, imagination. Imagination means we learn to step outside ourselves long enough to walk with another, in their shoes. To do that fully is to suffer with, to have com-passion and that is a Christ-like thing. It is to think deeply about how life might feel to be a Syrian refugee or a teen trapped inprostitution on the I-4 corridor.
Many people “prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are.” Says JK Rowlingto some Harvard students one commencement day, but she insists “the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.” They are like the cornered wild animal. Compassion allows you to take your lion self and see from a lamb’s perspective. Compassion calls to you take your lion voice to speak up for a lamb who has been long-silenced.
Living into God’s peace with imagination also invites the threatened little lamb hiding inside you to venture out with the flock (the church) until you learn that the care of the Good Shepherd. Then you too will see you are a Prince or Princess of Peace, a lion with voice, who is called to speak, as well as to follow. Think about it – even baby Wesley has both lion and lamb in him now. He is weak and in need of constant protection, but he has the voice of a lion, when he cries out to be fed or changed.
The vision for peace requires that lions be calmed and lambs be protected. No matter whether we’re talking about global peace, peace in your home, school or work, or peace in your heart – lions need feeding and lambs need protection.
Hold the vision for peace in your heart and mind and soul. Imagine all the children of Peace, no matter whether they are 9 months, 9 years, or 99 years old, learning to be strong in weakness like Christ, resilient in faith, hope, and love peacemakers dependent on God, living according to God’s way and will. Imagine all of us full of knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, full of the grace and peace that has been poured into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit in baptism. Having feasted again and again on God’s grace and peace, in Word and Sacrament, in prayer, song, and self-dedication, we become secure and satisfied, not needing to consume anyone and not afraid of being consumed. That’s the Peace-able kingdom – our vision.