Roger Gateson, Dec. 5, 2010
This homily is also available in audio form:
Advent II Dec 5, 2010 Make it Real
Isaiah 11: 1-10 Psalm 72 Romans 15: 4-9 Matthew 3: 1-12
It’s the 2nd Sunday in Advent….Every year at this time as the ram’s horn sounds on Steve Bell’s CD – it’s likely a saxophone - and the music of “Ready My Heart” fills the room, I feel a tingle of anticipation. What might Advent bring this year? Neither the stern injunction of John the Baptist to repent, nor the guilty suspicion that I might be one of what John rather harshly calls a “brood of vipers”- even these are not enough to dampen for me the promise of the Advent journey. Every year as the story that first Christmas unfolds, I look for the coming of the Messiah again, in a new way into the world and into my life.
Last week, the Old Testament reading for Advent I was Isaiah 2:1-5. It begins with “the word that Isaiah ‘saw’. God’s Word came to him not as words spoken, but as a vision seen…. more vivid than words, more meaningful than an illustration….it was a vision……a conception of peace and justice… clearly imagined and deeply felt.
Today’s Old Testament reading, also from Isaiah, is rich in playful imagery, warm sentiment, and filled with hope. Who doesn’t delight in the wonderful fairytale images of wolves cuddling up with lambs; leopards snoozing with kids; cows and bears munching grass together; a gentle, “vegetarian” lion; child-friendly snakes”? The challenge is to make it meaningful and real.
Have you caught the vision?
Beyond cartoon-like illustrations, wishful thinking, and sentiment, this is a vision of God’s Kingdom as it was meant to be: a place of peace, understanding, and compassion and justice for all creation…and Isaiah adds, “There will be no hurting or destruction on all God’s holy mountain”. We need to get in touch with the holiness of this vision and God’s determination that it will be so. Warning: it includes the poor, sick, homeless, violent, addicted, greedy….and each other.
And what is the link between Isaiah’s Vision and the Messiah? Perhaps it’s obvious but, it is Jesus’s coming that takes us from A to B – shows the way from extravagant vision to promised reality.
The Messiah will come, says Isaiah, with “the spirit of the Lord upon him”. This spirit of the lord will be manifest as righteous judgment for the poor; equity for the meek; an end to wickedness;….and in righteous and faithful living. He will be as a beacon to all. “This shoot out of the stump of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples and the nations shall inquire of him. He will teach us his ways and we will walk in his path,” says Isaiah.
How is it going - following in Jesus’s path?
Each year in Advent John’s challenge is before us, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near. Repent! Recognize the wrongs of your past actions and change your ways,” says John.
We joyfully proclaim that Emmanuel is coming to confirm the promises of God to all people. We confess and ask God to ready our hearts. Then what? Sometimes it seems we wait, and then…. too often….. at best we turn to celebration, and at worst return to business as usual. My repentance must bear fruit worthy of it, or it is hollow. Until I make changes, however small, in thought and action, my intention is pointless. This need not be a heavy guilt-ridden thing; rather a conscious making of some changes.
What’s the use anyway? Why carry this vision?
It is sad to contrast Isaiah’s vision with the current reality of so much of our world. Consider Korea, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iran, the Canadian north, North Winnipeg, West Broadway, Wolseley? Looking around, one might well give up on the world and the vision itself. The poverty, injustice, violence, and greed in our world, can be overwhelming.
I came across a definition of hope last week: Hope is a positive belief in a positive outcome; a feeling that something desired may happen whether or not the outlook warrants it. We choose not to despair, and we choose to hope, because of the promises of God such as we have heard this morning. These promises were given not as a consolation or distraction, but as an encouragement to rise to the challenge of participating in what shall eventually be – the challenge of Isaiah’s vision.
The stirring vision of peace, freedom, and justice has been realized in many places and by many individuals. Examples of generosity and compassion are many, but much of the world still cries out. Far from being mere spectators waiting for this promised transformation, we are called to be in partnership with God to bring the vision to fruition in our own homes, neighborhood, place of employment, and in the wider world. In every street, on every day, we need to live with the vision of Isaiah before us. We have seen the beacon, and as disciples of Jesus, we have been taught his way, our way forward. It’s not easy; but it is clear.
This Advent as you hear the ram’s horn and the call to ready your heart, as you answer John’s call to repent, as you reflect on the words of Isaiah, take heart – dare to dream the dream, follow the Messiah, carry the vision and in your own little corner, choose some small way to make it real.
#16 G.o.W. songbook