Advent 2 Yr A 2 019 Isaiah 11:1-10 Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 Romans 15:4-13 Matthew 3:1-12
Did you know that more people are living now than have lived since the human race came into being?
Did you know we are living in a golden age?, More people are living longer, than ever before. More people are well-fed than ever before. Disease is less a killer than it ever was.
However, as each object has its shadow, so does each achievement of this age, have a shadow.
Six million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty by the communist government, over fifty or so years.
An outstanding achievement by any measure.
But a million others, ethnic Uighurs, are confined in prison amps where they will be compelled to give up their religion, and learn to be obedient subjects.
Many diseases have been virtually eliminated – smallpox, consumption, diphtheria, scarlet fever, typhoid, cholera. Ringworm. – but new diseases have materialized. Fifty years ago, who had heard of AIDS or Sars, or flesh eating disease?
And Measles seems to be making a come back.
In a lot of areas where we thought the human race had made irreversible advances, we seem to be slipping back.
Countries still invade countries. Terrorists kill hostages. In many places, civilization has been revealed to be only a thin veneer.
We are just human beings, with our frailties, our faults, and our insecurities, so it’s only natural that we will make mistakes, and mess up as individuals.
And since human beings comprise governments, organizations and other institutions they will be messed up too.
A friend of mine came into work one morning and told me that he was in the dry cleaners situated at a busy intrsection and the policeman who had been directing the traffic outside, came in to the store, red-faced and frustrated.
The traffic he had been attempting to direct was tied up in knots.
Taking off his helmet, and mopping his brow, he said, “I figure I’ll let them sort it out for themselves for a while.
They are probably better left alone.”
Similarly, I read once, about the options open to the government in a particular situation.
The suggestion was made that the government might only make things worse by interfering, so it would be better to leave things alone.
So we human beings, whether acting individually or in concert with others, for all our vaunted technology, all our learning, all our over-weening confidence, can’t do right for doing wrong.
Isaiah, in today’s Old Testament reading is addressing Judah at a time when that nation has got things wrong.
The Assyrians had conquered them.
Life was hard.
But Isaiah reassures that God will deliver them, and restore their sovereignty, and He will do this through a Messiah whom he will raise up from the root of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of David, so talking about a shoot growing out of the stump of Jesse, means someone will be born of the house of David.
That someone will be the Saviour of Judah, and of Israel.
He will be someone with wonderful attributes. He will restore the nation to greatness, and will bring peace and security. He will do what kings and presidents have not been able to do.
Reading this excerpt from, Isaiah, along with today’s psalm extolling the righteous king, we can see the prophetic reference to the person that John the Baptist is also announcing – Jesus Christ.
Isaiah talks of a shoot that will grow from the stump of Jesse.
Jesus is a descendant of Jesse.
Isaiah also tells us that on this man will rest the Spirit of the Lord.
Do you remember the baptism of Jesus, when the dove landed on his head? The Spirit of the Lord?
And the promised Messiah has some specific attributes. He has wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, and the knowledge and fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. (Fear here is synonymous with awe, obedience, trust and worship.)
Wisdom, power and understanding, are attributes of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus.
We are told further, that He shall not judge merely by what the eyes can see, but he will look below the surface, into the heart.
That describes what we know of Jesus, doesn’t it?
“Righteousness will be his belt, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.” In other words his righteousness will be obvious, and so will be his faithfulness.
But what about the reign of this king; this Messiah?
Well, with beautiful imagery, Isaiah tells us that peace will be universal. It will cover the earth and all that lives on it.
Isaiah uses images of animals co-existing with their traditional foes. He shows us a wolf living with a lamb; a leopard and a kid; a cow and a bear.
In fact, things will be so wonderfully peaceful and serene that a child will not be bitten by a snake, even though playing by its den. In other words there will be nothing to fear in this new world order.
Under the reign of Jesus Christ, there will be peace between all things on earth.
The predator animal will no longer prey on the weaker animal.
Living in the city, away from the forests where some wild animals still live, we are not aware of that sort of danger, except when we read in the newspaper, of some mishap in the bush.
Predators belong in the wilds, whereas we live in the city.
But there are predators in the city, aren’t there?
In discussing a man due to be released for parole, a case worker described him as a predator.
A danger to society.
Today’s human predators are more to be feared than any animal predators.
They prey on children, on women, on anyone weaker than themselves and they hide in the shadows, and in internet chat rooms.
But on the day when the Messiah rules, such behaviour will have been eliminated.
Women, children, hostages, shall no longer be exploited. They will no longer be oppressed. They will no longer live in fear.
On that day there will be peace – a palpable peace – a peace that can be sensed – felt – enjoyed.
We are told that this will happen because the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord – covered in that knowledge, in fact – as the waters that cover the sea.
People will know the Lord, the world over.
His name will be written on their hearts.
His love will be known.
His rule will be known.
All over the world.
Now whether you choose to look at this text as foreshadowing the end of the world as we know it, and the beginning of the reign of Jesus, or whether you choose to look at it as a somewhat allegorical description of the inner peace that comes from knowing the Lord, it doesn’t matter, the result is the same.
Because we are given hope, as the Israelites were given hope.
This is a message of hope for these times, just as it was a message of hope for those times.
It brings us to an expectation of the coming of Jesus Christ, we will remember and celebrate this Christmastide.
It brings home to us that in a world where human beings with intelligence, with power, with ability, still mess things up corporately or individually, there is yet hope.
There is a wonderful hope in what we know of Jesus Christ, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Saviour, Redeemer, Son of God.
There is wonderful hope that with his help, with his love and direction in our lives, we can try again to get it right.
Again and again.
When I was a little boy, and uncles or aunts would stop by for a visit, the conversation would often turn to, ” Guess what our Trevor did now.”
And I provided plenty of fodder for such conversations.
But you can imagine how I felt. How embarrassed I was.
People I loved and admired were being told the latest episode in my young life.
Not now. Not any more.
There is reassurance in Christ, that as human as we are, and as many times as we mess up – that many times and more – will we be forgiven.
And not only are we forgiven when we mess up, but even the memory of what we have done is cast away by God, as far as the east is from the west.
Those things we did won’t be thrown at us; brought out at embarrassing times; held over our heads.
They are gone. Period.
That’s what we are promised, as in this second week of Advent, we anticipate the coming into this world of the child Jesus.
Hope for it.
Look for it.
Prepare for it.
Christ is coming.
And of Him who comes. we are told:
“He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, from one generation to another.
He shall come down like rain upon a mown field, like showers that water the earth.
In His time shall the righteous flourish.
There shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more. He shall rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
Praise His wonderful Name.