Rev. Reebee Girash December 4, 2016
Call to Worship/Lighting the Advent Candles
One: We are God’s gathered people.
Many: And so come to this moment filled with holy hope.
(The candle of Hope is lit)
One: May justice roll down
Many: And peace flow like a mighty river around the world
One: May equity be the reality for generations yet to come
Many: And may peace flow throughout humanity, as it did with the One
One: The One who was sent here, the One who sent us, the One whose
power never fails
Many: Peace is possible and we are resolved today to believe.
For if God be for us, then anything we dream of can be a reality.
We light this candle as we proclaim peace around the world.
We stand together, from one end of the Earth to the other,
knowing God is with us.
(The candle of Peace is lit, and the congregation sings:)
(Our candle lighting litany and song are from the United Church of Christ.)
Introduction to the Texts
Before I read our passage from Isaiah, let me acknowledge that Christians for thousands of years have been reading Jesus back into this ancient Jewish prophecy. I think it probably started in a synagogue when Jesus himself read from Isaiah, and said, this prophecy has been fulfilled in your hearing today. And sure enough our imagery of the Christ child and the Advent season comes right out of Isaiah 2 and 9 and 11. But to quote Mary Luti, “It’s...okay for us to read the other Testament christologically, as long as it’s not the only lens we ever bring to it, and as long as we understand and fully appreciate that it remains the Testament of an ongoing tradition not our own, and that therefore the texts are not ours alone to interpret–i. e., we can’t monopolize them or their meanings.” Yes, we see Jesus as a fulfillment of scripture he treasured - and let us relish these images of Jesus as the leader with the spirit of the Lord upon him - but let’s carefully set aside supercessionism recalling that “Jesus is a means by which God’s love and call for justice are made known among the gentiles, even as God’s love and will for justice have been known in Israel,” as Ronald Allen puts it.
I am particularly glad this text is paired in the lectionary with a word from Romans about reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles within the early church.
Listen for God’s word to you in Isaiah, and Romans.
THE WORD – Isaiah 11:1-10
11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
11:2 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.
11:3 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;
11:4 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.
11:5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
11:6 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.
11:7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
11:8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
11:9 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.
11:10 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.
15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
15:5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,
15:6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
15:7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
15:8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
15:9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name";
15:10 and again he says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people";
15:11 and again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him";
15:12 and again Isaiah says, "The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope."
15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I spent some of the summer of 1997 in a most unlikely place: Northern Ireland, just before the summer marching season.
I was there with a group interviewing peacemakers.
30 years of violence, hundreds of years of tension, and no group was blameless and no one could fully understand the other point of view.
But there were peacemakers.
There were politicians, and there were pastors and theologians and diplomats. But more importantly, there were prisoners who came home determined not to let the own children continue the fighting. There were mothers of children who’d died in the Troubles, who would not lose another son or daughter. There were groups bringing Roman Catholic and Protestant teens together for peacemaking.
In 1997 there were three things I observed about Northern Ireland:
I was less likely to be mugged than anywhere else in Europe - the paramilitaries on both sides saw to it.
The cliff above Giant’s Causeway on the northern coast was the most beautiful
spot on earth.
And peace was not near at hand.
I was there just before marching season.
But a year later, the Good Friday Accords were signed, marking the beginning of peace; the beginning of the end of the Troubles.
Isaiah lived in the ultimate in-between moment, in the 8th century before the common era, in Judah. The Jewish people had an extraordinary king in David, said to be just and righteous, son of Jesse, 200 years before. But now, Israel was divided, north and south, and the northern kingdom had been annexed to Assyria and the people of Judah, Isaiah’s people, were troubled by Assyria’s approach. At the end of Isaiah’s time, the Assyrians took over - and the 2nd Isaiah - whomever wrote the middle chapters - lived after the fall of the Temple. The book of Isaiah starts, then, with a word to an oppressed and worried people.
Now, our texts for Advent from Isaiah are words of hope, peace and restoration. But the first 11 chapters of Isaiah go back and forth, chapter by chapter, between judgment and reassurance.
Chapter 1 - the sinful nation who have forsaken the Lord.
Chapter 2 - the day of the Lord is coming; swords will be beaten into plowshares
Chapter 3 - woe to the guilty!
Chapter 4 - in that day, the fruit of the land...
Chapter 9 - for unto us a child is given!
In Chapter 10 Isaiah begins to prophesy restoration. The great tree of Israel, the house of David, the Jesse tree has been cut down. But the ax is coming for Assyria, too, and the remnant will return.
And in chapter 11: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
The prophecy of Isaiah is one of anger combined with love, a call for repentance paired with with the promise of redemption, the destruction of the present combined with the restoration of creation.
Our Advent texts from Isaiah, our beloved images of the peaceable kingdom, all focus on promises and reassurance.
But it seems to me that taken in context, the God Isaiah portrays is a bit like a loving parent, disappointed and reestablishing boundaries and norms for their child - but always wanting to make their steadfast love known. Child, you have done wrong, but I am still here. Child, this is your way back. Child, this is the dream I still have for you.
Parents, no matter how disappointed we are with our children, never stop dreaming of their beautiful future. The gateway to redemption never closes. So perhaps we can think of this chapter of Isaiah as a tiny piece of God’s dream for us, her children.
My people, my children, one day, oh, one day, God dreams, will have a leader who will be righteous and just, wise and understanding, loving and compassionate. The Spirit of the Lord will be upon this ruler who will come out of the roots of my people, a new branch out of the stump of Jesse, a stump with roots strong enough to still draw from my good soil and when my people have that leader - oh, then - then - the wolf will lie down with the lamb! It will be a peaceable kingdom. Oh, my children, God says. You’re going to make it through.
The importance to me of reaching back into Isaiah this season is not find Jesus there, but to remember, we have been here before. God’s people have been here before. God’s children, God’s beloved children, have been here before.
Exile, occupation, persecution, slavery, oppression. God’s people have been here before.
It is a comfort for us to see that the pendulum usually swings back.
Intractible conflict, terrifying war, God’s people have been here before.
It is a comfort, when you are looking at an almost dead tree stump, to think of a branch growing back out of it. It is a comfort to think of the wolf tamed into a gentle puppy. In dark, cold days, we look for the bright star in the sky.
And yet...if we study only the word of restoration, if we depend only on the coming, in some unknown day and form, of the righteous ruler, then we are not part of making the peaceable kingdom, not part of making the kingdom peaceable.
God’s word of loving reassurance has never once expected us to be passive.
It has never been something someone else will give to us, wrapped in a bow, that we can simply receive and celebrate.
It always has work attached.
That’s why we read all the chapters of Isaiah, not just the ones about the maiden and lamb.
Since the ancient prophets, God has reminded every generation of our calling to be peacemakers and justice bringers.
To protect the widows, defend the orphans, welcome the stranger (Exodus 22, Isaiah 1).
To beat swords into plowshares and no more study war (Isaiah 2)
To do justice and love kindness (Micah 6)
To be peacemakers (not peace receivers, peace makers) (Matthew 6 & Luke 5)
We call Jesus the Prince of Peace, but he told us to be kingdom builders with him.
And Paul asked us to welcome one another and live in harmony (Romans).
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15)
By the encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope, we might envision peace.
God’s beloved children have been here before. That is not to say here and now isn’t scary. That is not to deny the prejudice and oppression facing our neighbors, not to minimize the hate mail sent to the mosquest or the teen bullied. Here, before us, our mighty tree has been cut down to a stump.
But here, before us, God says, look for new life, fragile, resilient, defiant, a new branch.
Our calling is to feed that branch, to be repairers of the breach, to stand with the immigrant and the transgender teen, to heal the sick and to defend women’s bodies and children’s schools, to protect the water and air, to be peacemakers and to find hope. No matter what the world looks like, our calling continues.
Our commitment is to nurture the new branch, to build the peacable kingdom.
And our faith believes that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it. To look for the tiny candle, the far away star, the whisper of hope, the new growth on the dry stump.
Stacey Simpson Duke writes: “this is how hope gets its start—it emerges as a tiny tendril in an unexpected place” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, pg.28).
God’s people have been here before.
We are once again called to build the vision of God’s peace, God’s dream, God’s reign, God’s shalom... and to defiantly believe in the peace which surpasses all understanding, even when it seems very far away.
Then, too, we need to tell our children, it’s going to be okay, because we will not turn away, we will not give up, we will not normalize hate. We will work unceasingly for peace and justice, we will abound in steadfast hope and act with good courage, so that it will be okay.
These past weeks I have been studying William Barber’s book about the Third Reconstruction - the recent Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina and through the US. He traces the pendulum swings of oppression and liberation within our history, from the post-civil war period, to the civil rights movement, to this early 21st century moment. In a followup published just two weeks ago, he writes: “The story of our struggle for freedom is not linear: Every advance toward a more perfect union has been met with a backlash of resistance....If we are willing to see ourselves as we are and have been, we will also see our potential for prophetic resistance, even in times like these. For we are also the heirs of great dissenters who’ve stood for right even when they were a minority of one...Yes, we have some difficult days ahead. But our foreparents were up against more with less. And they taught us that a dying mule always kicks the hardest. Our work continues...”
God’s people have been here before.
So we can once again boldly prophesy the moment when:
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.
Let us pray:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace:
where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
 Removing Anti-Jewish Toxins from Advent Preaching, The Living Pulpit, 1997
The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement, The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove - https://www.amazon.com/Third-Reconstruction-Movement-Overcoming-Politics/dp/0807007412/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1481032993&sr=8-1&keywords=the+third+reconstruction
This prayer is attributed to Francis of Assisi.