Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

Advent is a multi-faceted season. It has all kinds of overtones, including that of judgement – we see that in today’s Gospel in the words of John the Baptist. He has a special place in the third Sunday of Advent, so we’ll leave him for now and look at the Old Testament reading which encompasses another great Advent theme – that of hope. 

Behind today’s reading lies the figure of Israel’s most famous king – King David: he who began his life as a handsome but lowly shepherd boy and ended it as a power crazed monster who thought nothing of having people killed so he could get what (or whom) he wanted. It had started so well , a man of the people with a passion for justice and righteousness. But power had corrupted David, and, like so many powerful people he had forgotten the ideals he started out with and learned to serve himself and suit himself. This is very familiar to us at a time where we despair at democracy itself because it often feels to have been hijacked by powerful people who forget they’re there to serve the people and seem often to use their status to feather their own nests. And when it happens often enough, we despair that – even in a democracy – we can make any difference. We are beset by helplessness.

Isaiah, penning this passage, must have felt something very similar, the great hope attached to David having come to nothing. But instead of sinking into despair, he put his imagination and faith into action and came up with this very beautiful passage of hope. He imagines a different future, a different type of leader rising from the ashes of the burnt out remains of King Davids’ reign – a new shoot from the house of Jesse – King David’s father. If you had to sum up what this imagined leader would be, you would say that they were a blessing. Wouldn’t that be wonderful – leaders who were a blessing? 

Just imagine this kind of leader: someone filled with God’s Spirit, someone wise and powerful, good at making decisions, full of wisdom and understanding, someone very clever, a person of profound faith who loves God, not swayed by wealth, status and vested interests but someone able to make decisions and judgements based on what is right and fair, someone with determined compassion for the poor – someone so powerful and good that the wicked fall away before him. A righteous, truly good person.

 The effect of this person, in Isaiah’s imagination, will be profound. For somehow all the violence of the earth will cease. Not just human violence, but the violence of nature itself. As a vegetarian of 40 years I find it intriguing that Isaiah’s vision of hope and peace involves lions eating straw instead of meat. Imagine that! And of course, we now know that hope for the earth involves forgoing the eating of meat: at the very least we must drastically cut down on meat eating, and move to plant based eating. You see, Isaiah somehow knew this all those years ago – we’re only just coming to understand what he has to say. 

For Christians, this person came to us in the person of Jesus. The references in the reading to a child are particularly striking at this time of year as we prepare, once again, to celebrate Jesus’ birth. We have a leader such as imagined by Isaiah – we are followers of a spirit filled, wise, faithful and compassionate lover of the poor, we have such a lover of peace and justice. And Isaiah’s non-violent, peaceable Kingdom has already come to pass: for Christians, Easter morning means that violence, shame, betrayal, death, and grief, do not have the last word. Love prevailed. This is the template of our hope as Christians and is also therefore the template of our lives. 

Imagine if someone came and asked you if you’d like to be part of a movement to change the world, to make it a better place, to transform society so that it worked better, to bring hope and justice and fairness and compassion to the world. You might well be wary: this sounds like some weird American cult which masquerades as something good but is really after your money and possibly your mind. And haven’t we heard all this before? Isn’t this what the political parties all say? And just look how flawed they are. 

But actually, by being here on a Sunday morning you’ve already signed up to this movement. By being here, you have made a choice to be a follower of Jesus who was and is all the things Isaiah imagined. You – we – have all signed up to be blessings to each other and to the world around us. Like everyone else we’ll get it wrong, make mistakes, fall into temptation, act with the best of intentions and get it wrong, or give up and just not bother. And, it has to be said that we are part of a national and global church which has, in many ways, ceased being a blessing to people – things need to change. 

So, this second Sunday of Advent, I leave you with a question. How are you going to be a blessing this week? And how are we as a church going to be a blessing in God’s world? Are you – are we – ready to give it a go? Will you, like Isaiah, envisage hope in the world? Will you BE that hope? Will you follow in the footsteps of the One who IS that hope? Will you build God’s peaceable Kingdom on earth?

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