Let us pray: Holy and Loving God, where can we go to get away from your Spirit? Where could we go to escape your presence? If we went up to heaven, you would be there. If we went down to the grave, you would be there, too. If we could fly on the wings of dawn, stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—even there your hand would guide us; even there your strong hand would hold us tight. Your love for us surpasses our understanding. Out of our mess, you create new life and restore us once more to relationship with you. Help us to get out of our own ways. Help us to know that it is not us who await your return, but it is You who lovingly awaits and anticipates our return to relationship with you. O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable in your sight. For you are our strength and our redeemer.
Since the beginning of Advent, new experiences have taken place in our home. My husband and daughter swiftly put away all of the fall decorations, and put out all of our winter and Christmas decorations, including putting up the tree. Our daughter was intent on making sure that every ornament, whether it has a hook or not, be included, so if you look closely, you will find several ball ornaments laying on the branches of the Christmas tree. A church member gave the children an Advent calendar, so each afternoon, we look for the correct numbered day to reveal one more picture of a larger nativity scene. I ask the kids questions, “Why do you suppose that woman is taking wood to this place (the manger)? Who might need it?” or “Who are these people taking care of this lamb? How did they know to come?” Each evening, we take our son’s Bible and we read a little more of the Christmas narrative found in Luke’s gospel. In each of these activities, my husband and I are hoping to create moments, to create memories, and even perhaps to create traditions with our children.
The oracles of the prophet Isaiah play an important role in the tradition of how the Christian Church understands the birth and the death of Jesus. Within the first 39 chapters of Isaiah, there are three oracles that we read during the season of Advent and on Christmas Eve. These messages from Isaiah spoke truth to early Christians about who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do, and they continue to speak those words of truth to us today.
In this, the third of the oracles, the prophet Isaiah is addressing Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel. The Arameans of Damascus (what is now Syria) and the northern kingdom of Israel, Jerusalem asked King Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah to align with them against Assyria. Against the advice of Isaiah, King Ahaz instead turns to Assyria in order to end the conflict. The result was devastation for the Israelites: Samaria was destroyed and the northern kingdom of Israel collapsed. This is the context into which Isaiah first delivered his vision. He speaks of the kingdoms as trees. The tree of Assyria would be cut down, never to grow again, but from the trunk of Jesse, a new branch would spring forth.
The trunk of Jesse is the house of David. Jesse, son of Obed, son of Boaz, was the father of King David, a king on whom, according to 1 Samuel, the Spirit of God rested. Isaiah prophesies that a righteous king will once again come from the house of David. Isaiah is likely referring to Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, but Isaiah could just as easily be uttering a prophecy of hope: a prophecy in which he believed, but a prophecy that he would not likely see fulfilled in his time.
Isaiah’s words, though about the house of David, are even more so about the agency and the activity of God. It would not be through mere procreation that a new king would come into power, but it would be through God’s divine actions towards the city of Judah and all of humanity. The future king, like King David, would be filled with the Spirit of God. In other words, this king would be anointed. He would lead others according to the Spirit of God which rested upon him. This king would be an answer to prayer for the people of Israel and a beacon of hope. He would not “judge by what he sees or decide by what he hears, but he would judge the poor with justice and render equitable decisions for the meek. The king would lead in such a manner because of his complete reverence and awe for God.
In the gospel of John, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, spends one day with Jesus and then proclaims to his brother, “We have found the Messiah.” The messiah is more than a term for a political leader. The messiah is one in whom the people of Israel found salvation and the dawning of a new day. The Messiah is one in whom Andrew, Simon Peter, and the other disciples found salvation and the dawning of a new day, and the Messiah is one in whom we continue to find salvation and the dawning of a new day. This promised salvation does not come from the lips or the acts of an elected or appointed leader, but from God. And, it is through God that every person and especially the poorest and most frail persons will experience righteousness, justice, and peace.
Though this vision comes about through the activity of God, the rest of creation is not made to sit and to merely watch. Rather, Isaiah offers a vision in which every part of creation is included and in which every part of creation participates. The place will be a holy mountain for God; the land will be filled with the knowledge of God; peace will belong to animals and humans alike. Toddlers will play with snakes without fear of being bitten.
While Isaiah describes this kingdom as a future reality; the writers of the Gospel accounts insist that the kingdom of God is at hand and the kingdom of God has drawn near. I submit to you that the kingdom of God is in the midst for all who are willing to see the word of God enacted and who are willing to be agents of that kingdom work. The realm of God shines through the mission of the church as we seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The realm of God shines through when we proclaim the good news to the poor and when we seek the will of God in order to act with righteousness and justice for each and every person.
As we await the coming of the Messiah, the Messiah awaits the coming of the Church. The Messiah awaits a community with wisdom and understanding. The Messiah awaits a community with counsel and might, and a community who knows, who reveres, and who stands in complete awe of God. The Messiah awaits a community who does not fashion itself after its own desires, but rather responds to the abundant love of God that has already been lavished on them. In a season that is steeped in tradition, we are called to not become stuck in our traditions but to press forward and to open our hearts to the new realm of God in which the exalted are made low, the low are exalted, and in which each one is loved and cared for with mercy and justice. I offer this to you today in the name of God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, mother of us all. Amen.