Second Sunday of Advent
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Scripture Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
The Peaceful Kingdom
11 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.
Return of the Remnant of Israel and Judah
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.
Sermon: “My Grown-up Christmas List”
Happy Advent, beloved church! Today we have lit the Candle of Peace as we move ever closer with expectation and excitement to the birth of Jesus. Sixteen days until Christmas! Sixteen days until Christmas! Just a little more than two weeks and it will be here. Does what I just said fill you with anxiety? Or does it bring a feeling of peace? If being just sixteen days away from Christmas fills you with anxiety, will you share why? If it brings a feeling of peace, will you share how?
Shopping and crowds at Christmas bring me the most anxiety for sure. When my daughter Grace was about 3 years old…I remember vividly sitting on the phone on a three-way call with two of my friends as we were combing the internet for THE hottest toy of the season. My sister was combing stores in Florida before she came home on Christmas break from college…and I was watching the clock tick down as Amazon prepared to release the stock of the remaining “Fur-Real Cat” toys that we were waiting for. Anyone else ever been on the hunt for that “hot toy” for a Christmas present for their child or family member? It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the latest and greatest, right? Here’s a clip from a scene from the film “Jingle All The Way” showing two dads that waited until Christmas Eve to do their children’s Christmas shopping.
But you know…it’s not just about toys that we sometimes get our tinsel in a tangle over. Rampant consumerism lures us out in the dark of night on Thanksgiving or the following morning for “Black Friday.” Just the mention of that phrase makes my eye twitch a bit. Anyone ever gone out shopping on “Black Friday?” I’ve gone twice…and many years apart. My first time, I went to Best Buy for a $10 DVD player…I stood in line next to a man that was upgrading his already owned 55” plasma screen TV that he bought over the summer for a brand new 60” plasma screen TV. The second time (and my last time) I went out on “Black Friday,” I went to Walmart. And what a brood of vipers surrounded me and my husband, as we tried to make our way to a Cricuit machine that was marked down 75%. Peace was the last thing I felt in those moments…and aren’t we all too familiar with reports like this in the national media on the morning of “Black Friday” or the day after? Here is a clip from a news report in 2018 highlighting the “un-peaceful kingdom” brought to you by our consumerist empire in America.
Thanks be to God that the 12-year-old girl didn’t die from the mall shooting in Alabama…but the shooter did. I have no idea what they were fighting over or for; but I am certain that it was nothing of importance that would justify the attempt at taking someone’s life….which ultimately cost him his own. Millions of people logging into take advantage of “Black Friday” shopping deals online and crashing servers and websites. A woman was being slammed to the concrete floor as she wrestled over a set of pots and pans. A sales associate climbing up onto a display table to escape the onslaught of humanity that was pressing in around her to secure a leopard print jacket with the “Pink” logo on the tag inside. TV’s flying over heads and into carts, lines of people waiting outside stores instead of spending time on Thanksgiving reflecting the many blessings that they have in their lives. (Change to “Peace on Earth” photo) Nothing says, “Peace on Earth” like “Black Friday” in America. But I digress…
The scripture we heard from Isaiah this morning causes me to wonder how the prophet would respond to situations like these. To be sure, the prophet spoke early on in the book of Isaiah about the dangers of focusing on and clinging to things of this world so tightly. The dangers of aligning themselves for wealth, power and privilege and political gains. Judgement was pronounced on the arrogance of Judah and Jerusalem. “The haughtiness of people shall be humbled, and the pride of everyone shall be brought low.” (Isaiah 2:17) “Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.” (Isaiah 3:9b) “O my people, your leaders mislead you, and confuse the course of your paths.” (Isaiah 3:12b)
There was a crisis going on here which resulted in this poetry. People were behaving badly. They weren’t carrying themselves in moral ways which would have been pleasing to God…or in ways that God required of them. They were self-righteous, they were perverting justice, speaking falsely…seizing property and amassing wealth at the expense of others. Making burnt offering sacrifices to God and considering those “sacrifices” to be “enough” to allow them to carry-on in their ways of destructive living. Now, obviously we didn’t see any animals being set on fire on altars in the video clips this morning…but, did we see any of those destructive, life-taking things in the videos? Do we hear of any of those things in news reports that we are flooded with from around the world? Absolutely, yes, we do.
We hear this Isaiah scripture during the Advent season and we as Christians traditionally prescribe the words to the coming of Jesus. But remember beloveds, we are second readers of this text. Our reading as Christians is always a re-reading of this Jewish text. Jesus read this text in the synagogues as he taught other members of the Jewish faith. But…the words still apply to us as Christians. We just have to be respectful of the tradition that the words came from. What is of importance to keep in mind while we are doing our re-reading is that the justice and righteousness are anticipations of what and how a Godly king should be. Jesus certainly embodied those teachings as he worked to establish justice for the poor and meek of the earth. At whatever cost…and we know how that ended for him as he practiced his vision…God’s will…for the peaceful kingdom.
That prophet Isaiah though… With every prophetic call for judgement or justice, it is quickly followed with the promises of hope and restoration. It’s very cyclical…almost like a metronome ticking back and forth. You can count on it. And why? Because…Isaiah knows God’s heart. Isaiah knows that God is going to offer restoration and hope to his people. And let us never forget, that we are talking about ALL of the people and ALL of the nations. That’s difficult for us to wrap our heads around sometimes…it is for me anyways. Especially in the face of such evils in this world that are of our own doing.
Let’s do a little exercise together…I would like you to think of two “natural” enemies facing off against each other. Perhaps those at a Trump rally and those at a Democratic debate. In our culture today there are no farther separated groups of people. The toxic vitriol that spews forth from each side against each other incites violence and a destructive view of human relationship. NO words need be spoken to each other for anger and hatred to be felt in the space that would hold them together. It’s palpable. It’s tangible. Each side sees the other as “less than human” and “wrong.” Both sides seek to reign over the other and to do whatever they can to keep them underfoot. Leaders are speaking, the crowds are responding…they are ready to pounce on each other if the slightest bump or brushing into each other is sensed or actually felt. We have seen extensive media coverage about how these things play out. But in the peaceful kingdom…which God wills for ALL of the created…something changes. The spirit of the Lord falls afresh on the right and the left. The spirit of wisdom and understanding. The spirit of counsel and might. The spirit of knowledge and reverence for the Lord. And instead of going to battle…peace is declared between them. Can you see it? Is it possible? We can’t control others…but we certainly have control within our own reactions and interactions with others. We are the vehicles that God uses to help build the peaceful kingdom here on earth.
Pastor Bob shared an amazing resource with me last week and I would like to share a quote from David Davis’ writing about all of the prophets including Isaiah. It really made me think deeply into the idea of Christianity NOT being a “spectator sport”. Davis says, “Prophets are not interested in Christians who sit in pews and say the church should stay out of it. Prophets are not interested in self-absorbed believers who have concluded hat its really all about them and they punched ticket to eternity. Prophets call people to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with their God. (Micah 6:8) Prophets inspire people to let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24) Prophets are about pruning, shaping, sending, creating, empowering, inspiring, encouraging, and calling a kingdom people.”
You beloveds are that kingdom people. We are that kingdom people. And we are called to sometimes step up and say, “What are you doing? What are we doing? Don’t miss this opportunity to do better!” (Change to the Grown-Up Christmas List photo) Don’t let the things of this world distract you from the hope and restoration and peace that God offers and wills for each of you. My Christmas list isn’t one that focuses on wordly possessions, but it is one that focuses on needs and wants for the world through each of you gathered here this morning. My list includes prayers for hope for each of you…to spring up within you as you look forward to the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. Prayers for peace for each of you as we journey ever closer to the inbreaking of God through the birth of that precious baby in the manger. Prayers that the spirit of the Lord falls afresh upon each of you; the spirit of wisdom and understanding; the spirit of counsel and might; the spirit of knowledge and reverence for the Lord. Amen.
“Stories of Christmas”
You may call me—what is your word for it—ah, yes, you may call me “The Rookie.” My story goes back to the days when I was a Magus in training among the Magi of Babylon.
The Magi held great power. We interpreted dreams, studied the stars, and were advisors to kings. Believing that earth, sea, and sky are one, we cast horoscopes, but only for royalty and nations.
Reading the sky as others might read books, we didn’t so much foretell the future as help make sense of the present.
Most Magi came from high priestly families but, occasionally, a bright pupil would catch their attention and they would bring him—yes, I’m afraid, only him—into their ranks.
I was one such initiate, thrilled to become part of an order I thought fabulously wealthy, eminently mysterious, and imponderably wise.
Given that, I was surprised where my training began. My teachers took me to the stables and told me to clean out the stalls.
When I protested this was beneath the dignity of a magus in training, my teachers said, “There is no lowly job nor high job, only different ways of serving the God of Light. Such is the path to wisdom.”
After shoveling dung for a time, my teachers sent me to the poorest part of the city, where I served as a teacher, seeing the life that my students lived. Again, I protested, and my teachers, as usual, had an answer.
“Until you discover how much you have yet to learn, and until you understand that there are no rich or poor, only people precious to the God who made them, you will never become wise.” So my time of apprenticeship passed.
I waited on my teachers at table, and spent many nights with them learning about the mysteries of the sky. I discovered constellations, spread out as though on a map above me.
Some stars stayed forever in the same place. Others moved, following regular paths, though at different speeds. The world of light and our world worked as one, carrying out God’s will for people and nations and creation itself.
One night my teachers became extraordinarily excited. There was a rare triple conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars in the constellation of Pisces, they said.
Pisces was associated with the last days and the Hebrew people, Jupiter with a world ruler, and Saturn with the Amorites of Syria and Palestine. My teachers declared that there would appear in Palestine, among the Hebrews, a world ruler of the last days, a king of the Jews.
They resolved to at once go to Jerusalem and ask King Herod where they could find the new king.
Song, “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem”
The Magis’ heads and hearts had been so long in the stars that they sometimes didn’t know how to make their way through this world.
“My teachers,” I gently said, “word of this Herod’s cruelty has reached even the royal courts of Babylon. Would be wise to tell one with a reputation for ruthlessly slaughtering those whom he suspects of even the slightest treachery that a rival to his throne has been born?”
It was all to no avail. Off we went, with them bringing gifts for the new king. They rode; I walked. Along the way I waited on them, cooked for them, put up our tent each night, and tore it down again the next morning. Finally, we reached Jerusalem.
Our arrival created quite the stir. We had no trouble securing an audience with King Herod. He seemed extremely interested in my teachers’ news.
In fact, he called his own religious advisors together and asked them where this new king would be born. They directed us to the village of Bethlehem.
Herod encouraged us to find this new king and then bring him word so that he, too, might honor the child.
Before we set out, though, Herod made a point of learning the year, month, and day this rare conjunction of planets had first cleared the horizon.
The five- or six-mile journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem went quickly. When we neared Bethlehem, my teachers decided to camp outside the village. If only they had someone who could pass unnoticed through the village streets, someone who could search out this special child. You can guess who went.
Song, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
I began my quest, and quickly discovered that all parents consider their children special. Weary at chasing down every child’s cry and discouraged because this new king was seemingly nowhere to be found, I had almost given up hope.
Then my search took me past an inn, crowded as they all were. What made this inn different was the stable behind it.
There, a family with a young child had temporarily bedded down amidst the straw, the muck, and the usual assortment of beasts and livestock. This, at last, was out of the ordinary and worth investigating.
So, I wandered through the neighborhood and asked people if they’d noticed anything special about this child. They shared stories of shepherds visiting not long after the baby’s birth who spoke of angels singing in the heavens and directing them to this very child. Surely, he was the one!
I ran back and excitedly told my teachers what I’d found. For the first time in their great adventure, they hesitated. A king, born in the stink of a stable?
“My teachers,” I asked, “didn’t you once tell me that there are many ways of serving the God of Light, and that there are no rich or poor, only people precious to God? If the stars brought us to Bethlehem, then this child must indeed be the one whom we seek. It could be that even you, my teachers, still have much to learn.”
They looked at me with new respect, climbed on their camels, and rode into Bethlehem. I walked, as always, leading them to the stable where the young family stayed.
Song, “We Three Kings”
You can imagine the commotion as we passed through the village. My teachers didn’t notice. Their heads and hearts were in the stars.
They quickly came back to earth when we reached the stable, though. Kneeling in the muck and mire, they offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the startled young family.
Our mission over, we began the long journey home. The Magi, bless them, were all for first going to Jerusalem and reporting to King Herod.
“My teachers,” I said, “you really think that’s such a good idea? Might it not be best if we didn’t tell him where to find a rival to his throne?”
Of course, they knew better. We spent one day on the way to Jerusalem. That night, however, warned in a vision not to return to Herod, my teachers decided to bypass Jerusalem and go home by another route. Now that it was their idea, my, how wise and profound it was!
My old teachers have long since passed into the realm of light, but memories of that journey linger. I often wonder what became of the one whose birth was greeted by the songs of angels, the praises of shepherds, and the open hearts and seeking wisdom of the Magi.
I do know this. Wherever he is, the child will humble the proud, challenge the wise, and bring new life to those willing to walk in his light. May our search become yours, as you discover for yourself the many ways that light still breaks through the darkness.
Song, “Joy to the World”