Sunday, December 04, 2016
Second Sunday of Advent
Prayer of the Day
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming nurture our growth as people of repentance and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 11:1-10 From David’s line, a ruler bringing justice and peace
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13 Live in harmony, welcoming one another
Matthew 3:1-12 A voice cries: Prepare the way of the Lord
Sermon: Prays for a Leader of Peace
There is a crisis of leadership. There is shortage of peace. No, this is not just another newscast. It’s not a summation of the turbulent year that has been 2016. I’m looking at the readings for today and we see a serious, hope-killing, anxiety raising, peace-strangling crisis of leadership.
The people listening to the words of the prophet Isaiah were facing a political leadership crises within and without the tiny kingdom of Judah. Isaiah received his call from God in the year that King Uzziah died, we are told by the prophet. A great king was being laid to rest and there was not a lot of confidence in those that made up the line of succession. What was this little nation to do without a strong leader like Uzziah? Especially in light of the fact that the super powers around them: Mighty but waning Assyria to the north and trouble-making Egypt to the south were beating war drums and trying to pull Judah into the impeding war. Who would Judah rely on in this time of crisis? If only they could have a king like David again, the son of Jesse. If only they could go back to those golden days. You know, make Judah great again. When their country was strong and it was doing the over-powering. When their kings were wise and the people could rest easy. But, no, that fruitful line has been chopped down like a tree and the lifeless stump is offering no sense of peace.
The people described in the gospel reading, coming to hear John the Baptist wished they had a king, even a weak king instead of the puppet on the throne that they had in King Herod. Not a king at all, but a collaborator with the occupying enemy, none the less. And he wasn’t the only one collaborating. The Sadducees – the primary leaders of the dominating temple system – knew their power rested in that building and the relationship that they skillfully maintained with those same Romans. They know well the first rule of surviving a political crisis: when you’ve lost your power, alley yourself with the new power holder. No matter what you have to sacrifice, no matter how tightly you have to pinch your nose, not what the cost of selling your soul. The Pharisees, on the other hand, responded to the religious crisis that they were observing by desperately clinging to their identity as God’s chosen people through obedience to the law to the point that their obedience was eclipsing their identity and their faithfulness. Neither approach a recipe for peace at all.
And while John the Baptist is shouting words of encouragement to a people in crisis to “Repent,” to change their thinking, to turn around from the direction in which they are misguidedly heading, he is having his own leadership crisis himself. In his restlessness to see the Messiah come, he is pointing a judging finger at those who are searching, who are inquiring, at those who are hungry to hear a word of comfort from God. John the Baptist has his own bit of nostalgia going on as he sounds more like an Old Testament prophet than a New Testament witness to the coming Christ. For like his ancient brethren, he points the sharp and condemning finger of wrath-filled judgment at the people, even though they are coming to hear him preach. (But, of course, we have to cut him a break because he has not met this Jesus the Christ yet. At this point in the story Jesus has not begun his ministry. But check in next week when we get a glimpse of John’s reaction after Jesus proclaims and spreads his revolutionary image of God’s coming kingdom of peace. But that’s next week.)
The people to whom Paul is writing in Roman have certainly heard of Jesus’ ministry, of his life, his teachings, his miracles, his death and resurrection, his ascension and his promise to come again. They are part of this growing movement known as the church, but in that metropolis – that capital of the empire, the crossroads of the western world – this growing community of believers was diverse: Gentiles and Jews, Romans and Greeks, slave and free; immigrant, refugee, and citizen. And they were called to live and worship together, to find peace in the midst of their diversity.
Hopelessness in the midst of political upheaval, powerlessness in the midst of self-serving dominance, judgmentalism in the midst of struggling faith, dis-ease in the midst of diversity, despair in the midst of profound loss – where can peace be found in the midst of such a leadership crisis? Never mind the ancients, perhaps that is your, our, question even for today.
But to the ancients and to us speaks a prophet and a theologian. Isaiah, the prophet, speaks of a perfect peace that has every adversary of nature living peacefully side by side. Victim/dominator relationships are gone on God’s mountain (or in God’s kingdom, if you prefer.) The one who is worthy to dominate – the Creator, only provides peace and life for all creation. Even children can play without fear. Isaiah gives to all who are deep in crisis a solid rock of hope to stand on with images of the new creation that God is bringing to fruition. A new creation that we are invited to be a part of through baptism into Christ and build a relationship through prayer as we long for peace in our troubled world
Paul, the law-abiding-Pharisee turned grace-clinging-theologian, reminds us that in all our crises: political, spiritual, leadership, or nature – we are not alone. We are the body of Christ, welcoming all as we have been welcomed. Welcomed and welcoming into this diverse community of faith not through our deeds or actions, not by decision of leaders or by vote of the populous, welcomed solely through the actions of God, made known in Jesus Christ, continuing in our midst through the work of the Holy Spirit. Baptized into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we are welcomed and we welcome. Keep your prayers wet with the font’s waters of new life, waters of peace as we stand together, as we stand with Christ.
The prophet proclaims that the glory of God is in the perfect peace that is beyond our understanding; but is ours none the less, through Jesus, the one who is coming, the one who is here, the shoot that rises out of everything that we might see as cut off and dead, be they dreams of the future, failures of the present, or regrets of the past. He is the shoot rising out of death to bring new life to creation. The theologian teaches that the glory of God is in the community that forms around Jesus, the one who is the Word of God in our midst. The community of faith and prayer that is connected to him, connected for him, and connected by him.
Even when our crises seem beyond anything we can endure, even in the shadow of the cross, and in the darkness of death, Jesus, our resurrection hope shines for us brightly. He is bringing his life even to the stumps that seem only good for burning, bringing God’s peace to a world hell-bent on devouring itself, bringing God’s hope to a world despairing at loss, bringing God’s justice to a world filled with finger-pointers and dominators, bringing God’s community to a world of closed borders, thick walls, and locked doors. We know all too well the darkness of our crises. In faith, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can see the light of God’s promise. This is why our Advent prayer is: Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
The Rev. Mark Erson,