Sermon Advent 2A 2019                                                                                               The Rev. John M. Atkins

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

The Prophet Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

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.

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;

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.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

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.

The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the
ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

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.

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.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

1 Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King’s Son;

2 That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;

3 That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.

4 He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

5 He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.

6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.

7 In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.

18 Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, *
who alone does wondrous deeds!

19 And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! *
and may all the earth be filled with his glory.
Amen. Amen.

 

Paul’s Letter to the Church in Roman 15:4-13

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. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 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, 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”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

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.

 

Gospel of Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 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.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

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? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 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. 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.

“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. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

 

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A Lutheran pastor and an Episcopal priest from two local congregations were standing by the road, pounding a sign into the ground, that read: The End is Near! Turn Yourself Around Now Before It’s Too Late!

As a car sped past them, the driver yelled out, “Leave us alone, you religious nuts!”

From around the curve the two clergy heard screeching tires and a big splash.

The priest turned to the pastor and asked, “Do you think the sign should just say: ‘Bridge Out’?”

We are human; fallible, reactive and sometimes funny.

When we hear a message, it is interpreted through culture, upbringing, life experiences and our conscious and unconscious beliefs.  If we feel our beliefs and attitudes threatened, most likely, we’ll reply with an impassioned response.

We all have our days.  This behavior is part of being human.  God recognizes this reality and offers us opportunities for building on our goodness and dismantling our prickliness and prejudices.

As C.S. Lewis wrote: “We are not creatures who need improvement; we are rebels who must lay down our arms.”

The ancient prophets were keenly aware of the harsh reactions often expressed as they shared God’s messages with God’s people.

The prophet Isaiah in chapter 11 is writing to the kingdom of Judah.  Leadership and people alike were trusting in foreign alliances and worshiping foreign, pagan gods.  The people of Judah abandoned their faith and broke their covenant with God.

Isaiah shared God‘s vision of a reordered creation that is fundamentally different from the world we live in.  Isaiah paints a beautiful portrait of this new, reordered creation; all creation expressing itself in justice, harmony and peace.

Michael J. Chan, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., tells us:

“In the ancient world, the killing of lions demonstrated one’s worthiness to rule, and was a sign of divine favor… Yet, unlike other ancient Near Eastern sovereigns, the Davidic ruler of Isaiah 11 does not hunt lions; rather, mysteriously remakes them in a way that utterly eliminates predatory violence from the food chain.

For Isaiah 11, these are the fruits of the just and righteous reign of David’s descendants.  And, the David’s kingdom will ensure that “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’”  (Michael J. Chan, Isaiah 11:1-10, Textweek, Advent 2A, 2019)

Unrelentingly, Isaiah strongly advised the people of Judah to repent and return to God.  In Hebrew, the word for repent, t’shuva, has its roots in the exile from Egyptian slavery and means to begin a journey of return(Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity)

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing a bus driver’s instructions to give up her seat to a white passenger.  Her prophetic response of no longer giving in to unjust social norms imposed on people of color, sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which successfully launched nationwide efforts to end racial segregation of public facilities.  (https://www.biography.com/activist/rosa-parks)

After 64 years, our society continues grappling with racial, ethnic and gender, and other targets of injustice.  Yet, you and I have the power to assist our society in evolving more fully in ways of justice.

Yesterday, December 7th, was the 78th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to the attack with a radio message to the American people and asked Congress to support articles of war against Japan.  In 1945, President Harry Truman made the difficult decision to end the war by using atomic bombs.

The evil aggression of the Japanese Empire was halted.  But today, evil aggression continues by regimes and other entities.

Isaiah caught God’s vision of a new world, where all creation is embraced by justice.  Yet, not all people envision it, seek it or want it.  The prophet declares that their kingdoms will be utterly destroyed; for the mouth of God has spoken.

The prophet John-the-Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  John offered baptism for the forgiveness of sins in preparation of the Messiah’s coming.  The Messiah’s purpose is to do God’s work of reordering the world, bringing people together in love, and inaugurating God’s realm of peace.  This is God’s salvation.

Repentance was to John, and still is, essential to welcoming the Messiah.  The Greek word for repentance that we find in the New Testament is metanoia.  In terms of its Greek roots, to repent means to go beyond the mind and identity that humans develop from their culture and, instead, be in sync with Christ.  (Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity)

Repentance gifts us with salvation and grants us participation in God’s reordering vision for us and the world.

As is most evident, God’s vision is incomplete.  The work of Messiah Jesus is not finished.  We believe Messiah Jesus will return one day, ending our familiar world of injustice, greed and division, and bringing about the completion of God’s promised vision of reordering creation.

There is a story of a wise Rabbi asking the question: “How can you tell when the darkness of night ends and the light of day begins?”

One student responded: “When there is enough light to see an animal in the distance and tell if it is a sheep or a goat.”  Another student answered: “When there is enough light to see if a tree is a fig tree or an oak.”

The Rabbi answered his students oh, so gently: “No.  It is when you can look into a person’s face and recognize that one as your sister or brother.”  (Sermon ADVENT 1A 2010-13)

The voices and courageous actions of the prophets echo in this Advent Season.  As we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Messiah Jesus, the prophets of God robustly urge us to prepare in ways unlike the world.  The prophets encourage us to prepare by turning our minds, hearts and identities to God’s light of salvation, illuminating a new vision for the world.  This is the only way we may, in truth, embrace God’s vision, prophetically live our salvation and assist in bringing about God’s new world of justice, harmony, peace and love.