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Second Sunday of Advent, 2022
The world around us is a broken place. Now, I know you expect someone preaching salvation to say that. Fair enough. But I think anyone, if they are honest, and if they are able to look past their own comfort and security, will see that we live in a dark world, too often devoid of mercy and light. Turmoil surrounds us. We have political leaders across the board who can’t even talk about the other side without villainising them. Nations war around us, whether one against another or internally. Opioids, homelessness, and racism have and continue to rend our cities. And if our minds go to the recent abuses of the Church in our day, our mouths can only stop, and we cry out: Why is the world this way? More to the point, how can we find peace in a world like this? Advent is an appropriate time to consider these questions, to wrestle with them. Because Advent is a time when we not only look back to the first coming of Christ in his incarnation, but also forward to his return, when the work he has begun in transforming our world into the New Creation will be complete. Isaiah 11:1-10 doesn’t give us answers to the question why is the world this way. Other passages may, but let me propose that Isaiah 11 answers an even more vital question: What is God going to do about the state of the world?
The context of Isaiah is one of great turmoil and darkness. Isaiah proclaims his message in a time when the fate of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah looked grim. The Assyrians, one of the most brutal powers in the ancient world, were coming to overthrow Israel, and Babylon to conquer Judah. John the Baptist is in a similar situation in his time, as he preaches in the gospel reading of the King who will come, during the time of brutal Roman domination. In both cases, God’s elect people are facing oppression and destruction by other nations, and asking, “why?”
We might ask the same thing. And Advent is a good time to do so. Right now the natural world mirrors the history of Christ’s Incarnation. Both are times where the world is still. Both are times of what seems like Divine silence. For us it is the dark, still, silence of winter. For them, the dark, still, silence of God, as they lived under foreign rulers and awaited the Messiah to come. For us again, the dark, still silent waiting for that same Messiah to return.
I think you kids understand this quite well. You hate to wait for things, right? When I was younger, I remember having to wait for Christmas presents. My kids are going through the ache of waiting right now, for Christmas, for winter camp, and for a family vacation in January. Maybe it is counting off the days until your birthday, or until the school year ends. If you’re older, maybe counting off the days until you receive a college acceptance letter. For adults, it’s to finish grad school, to have a child, to get married, to know whether we will survive an illness, to see grandchildren, or to live while our friends and family pass and we grow old. All of these experiences, all of the Christian life in some way, is an exercise in waiting for the ultimate reality to come. For Christ to come.
That brings us back to Isaiah. Here we are given a vision of what God intends, of what He is doing in the world. It begins by pointing us back, into Isaiah’s past. He refers to “A shoot” growing from “the root of Jesse.” Hundreds of years earlier, God had made a promise to David, King of Israel and son of Jesse, that his line would never end. Here, the people are being reminded of that promise, even as in the previous passage they were told that they, like a forest, would be cleared away because of their sin (10:18). But, a shoot, a branch of new life, will rise where they fell, a king who will truly be able to establish justice in the world.
Isaiah 11 speaks of a person who will be empowered by the Spirit of God. The attributes involved are significant here in vs. 2: wisdom and understanding to rule, counsel and might to carry out His plans, and knowledge and fear of the Lord to show that He is holy. This person, in other words, will have every attribute needed to judge whether one is evil or good, whether justice has been served or undermined. This person not only knows what must be done, but has the power to do it, and is furthermore qualified to do it as one who fears the Lord and is thus holy. In a day when authorities are foolish, ineffective, and worst of all, corrupt, we too need to hear these words, and to have this hope.
It is important that Isaiah points these attributes out, because they qualify this shoot, this king, to judge the people. Who among us would go to a person unqualified to help us in some issue? When my phone is going wonky, I go to the Apple store. When I have a health problem and am not being stubborn or forgetful, I go to my doctor. These people are qualified in a way I am not. So it is with this person, this king, this Messiah, the one set aside by God for this task. He fears the Lord, and has been granted the Spirit of God to discern, and will not be fooled by appearances as we are told by vs. 3, whether the trappings of political office or clerical robes. As John the Baptist points out in Mt. 3, many people, like the Pharisees, are quite adept at adopting the appearance of holiness, but in reality are corrupt inside. The Messiah will not be fooled. He will see all truly, and will judge all truly, so that true peace may reign. And this judgment will reverse all of the ways that we expect humanity to function. We expect the strong and the ruthless to reign, and the rest of us to have to submit. But according to vs. 4, the Messiah will lift up those who are meek and preyed upon, and put down those who are evil and oppressive.
What a great comfort for those who suffer! What an encouragement for those for whom life has shown no favors! You are told that God will establish justice, those who prey on the weak will pay their due, and true peace will flourish. In Isaiah’s time, they were expecting further judgment. But Isaiah points to the kingdom where peace reigns, a poetic representation where predators and prey will be at peace, where snakes and lions will leave be the lambs and children.
How do we find this peace now? How do we rest and find solace in a tumultuous world? We look to Jesus Christ. Through him, all things will be brought to new life; though there is darkness and suffering now, those things are but for a time, and he will resolve them. By faith we know none of this life is forever, and so we can persevere in the promise of our eventual rest. If we know Jesus, and we trust that he will restore the world, then we can face the trials of life with steadiness, with acceptance, because we know that those things we cannot control are in his hands. We can be steady, and immovable, not because the world ceases to rage, but because its raging doesn’t change the truth that in Christ all things will be made new. We can lose loved ones, homes, communities, churches, and jobs, and yet live in faith, hope, and love, because by the power of God, we know that these sorrows too will cease, and that we will remain.
So the may world trouble us, and it should. But be encouraged: for Jesus has won the victory, justice will reign, peace will endure, and we? We will carry His message of peace and righteousness forth and make it real in the world until He returns, to complete the work He has begun and is carrying out through us. Let it be, for all the world. Amen.
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