The Sunday Sermon: Second Sunday of Advent – December 8, 2019
Scripture: Isaiah 11:6-9
The Sounds of Christmas: Peace
This year, this Advent, these four Sundays of this month of December, we may be waiting for Christmas Day, December twenty-fifth, but we are not waiting for Christ to come. We are celebrating Christ’s presence here and now, we are recognizing and living into the “realized eschatology” that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth some two thousand and nineteen years ago initiated. Did you know that (Larry)? That you’re living in a “realized eschatology?” We all are.
The end has begun. And, no no no, not the end of the world. We’ll leave those interpretations with others who have given up on this world and those in it. What has begun already, what is here already, what we are celebrating this year, is the end of hatred and violence, of domination systems that oppress and suppress all but the most rich and powerful, of mindsets that listen for and respond to all the wrong sounds of this season and every season. The end has begun. We look around outside these walls and we find it hard to believe – that hatred, violence, oppression, and greed are ending. The world outside is not such a place far too often. Until and unless, we – you and I, step outside these walls and do our part to make it so. That’s finally what we’re celebrating, what’s here and now: You and I – Christs of the twenty-first century. Our “sounds” are the ones the world needs to hear. They are sounds that are already present. We don’t need to wait for them. We do need to give them voice.
Pray with me …
The true sounds of Christmas. Last week Hope. In the weeks ahead, through other voices “crying out in the wilderness,” Joy and Love. This week, this morning: Peace. I have found this such a beautiful “image” in the past week as I have wondered where the Spirit would lead this sermon message: The Sound of Peace. On one hand Peace sounds like this … (silence) … eyes closed and deep, contented sigh. But as the “gathering words” from our bulletin note Peace is not just the absence of something negative: noise, anxiety, worry. True peace includes the presence of something positive. In words that expand those you read to begin your time of worship this morning, Dr. King reminds us:
It is not enough to say “we must not wage war.” It is necessary to love peace and to sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace … We must see that peace represents a sweeter (sound), a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war (in any of its forms) … If we have the will and determination to (do that) … we will unlock tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our (current sounds of discord) into a psalm of creative fulfillment. (Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1964)
Peace. It costs us nothing. It offers us everything. When unrealized, it occasions a deeper desire for both a greater effort and more change. When realized, it offers us a glimpse of God. But … what does it sound like?
It sounds like the soft, barely audible breath of a baby sound asleep in her crib.
It sounds like the description of boy given to you by your daughter as she absent-mindedly fills in a page of her coloring book.
It sounds like your wife’s smile when she wakes up to a crackling fire on a cold December morning.
It sounds like the voice of your mother on the phone sharing everything going on since last week and nothing world shaking at all.
And … it sounds like neighbors sharing the leaf bagging duties of late Fall.
It sounds like a community coming together for an annual Yule Log celebration on what promises to be a beautiful night.
It sounds like legislators and leaders, at all levels, agreeing that our cities, states, and country can do better and be better for all of us and working together to make that happen.
It sounds like the wealthy nations of the world coming together to “develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed.” (Ibid.)
It also sounds like this … Listen for the Word of God. Read Isaiah 11:6-9. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
We read from Isaiah last week. With a deep and faithful hope that “swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.” Those are some of the most familiar words from this prophet’s writing, second only perhaps to these that describe the peaceable kingdom of God. The human imagination has been fascinated for millennia with the idea of predator lying down with prey. We recognize something profound in these reports.
But honestly, why do the words of this prophet continue to stoke hope and provide comfort through words of a peace that can hardly be regarded as fulfilled today in any, even modest, sense. Why do we still, today, especially during Advent – and especially during an Advent where we are celebrating the “presence” of God, the here-and-now of somethings positive like hope, peace, and soon joy and love – why do we preserve and celebrate the prophecies of Isaiah concerning peace, endless peace, an end to war, and righteous leaders when most of the evidence around us seems to show the predators hard at work devouring their prey? Why haven’t we regarded Isaiah as a crackpot or a dreamer, misguided or relevant not to “now,” but only to some age to come if we just wait long enough?
The answer to that question is both historical and impending. It is rooted in the past and speaks to a future that will only come to be through the present. Historically, Isaiah’s prophecies did come to pass at the turn of the seventh century BCE. Immanuel, in the form of King Hezekiah who re-established and upheld the throne of David, began to rule. And Assyria’s hostility toward Israel ceased. With these historical events Israel has been judged, Immanuel has stood firm against Assyria, and a remnant has returned. Isaiah was, in his own day and for us this day, that rare example of a prophet who prophesied peace and had his word verified in his own time.
And yet, even with this history on his side, a wider salvation history was preserved, for his words spoke also of a day that was to come, that had not yet taken place or proved true. Because his vision came to pass in history, and in his own lifetime, those who heard his prophecies of peace through the two millennia to follow, heard in his words, hope and peace, for their own time. Prophets who prophesy peace must have a “track record” if their visions are to command an audience willing to hear God’s intentions for the “now” and in the years to come. It is on the basis of peace fulfilled that peace to come is given an authority in Isaiah that guides the hearts and minds of men and women who continue to listen, who continue to believe that God’s holy mountain is not simply a wish, but are reality in the past and a vision of the future.
Those men and women who continue to listen are you and me.
While it took the form of King Hezekiah, at least for a short while, in the seventh century BCE, the “shoot from the stump of Jesse” spoken of in the first verse of our chapter, is never precisely identified in the final presentation of the book of Isaiah, with all the growth and supplementation it endured in the years beyond those in which these first chapters were written. Finally, the proclamation of chapter eleven speaks of age yet to come, when rule shall happen through “a spirit of wisdom and understanding ” (v.2), when the “wolf shall live with the lamb” (v.6), and when “all are finally gathered together” (v. 12). It is for this reason, with hope for this peace, this “shalom,” that churches and synagogues alike have turned to Isaiah over and over for thousands of years. For the church, for us, especially during the Advent season. What has been, will be, if we will only acknowledge that it “is,” even now, in us and get to work! We wouldn’t be the first to acknowledge our role in salvation history. We have a powerful progenitor.
Jesus, the boy from Nazareth surely knew of, perhaps had even heard read, the prophecies of Isaiah. In fact, his first words as an adult in the Gospel of Luke are read from the scroll of Isaiah. Jesus, I believe, understood the prophecies of old to speak also to the future through the present. And Jesus, I believe, realized – at some point in his life, perhaps at about age thirty when he began to draw the attention of the religious leaders of his day, the Empire of his time, and a small group of followers – he realized that any future that included predators lying down with prey needed to be worked on now, in his life time. It’s about this time, I would suggest, that others started taking note of what he said and where he went and who followed him. Because it was about this time that the Kingdom of God was experienced again as a present reality, even as its fulfillment was yet to be.
Jesus was remembered as “God’s anointed” because he took up his God-given role in salvation history. A history that has been taking place since humans began articulating “the Fall”, whether you find that event in Adam and Eve, in the discovery of self-consciousness or the rise of civilizations. God has always called us to take our place in returning creation to its Creator. And Jesus did. What are we waiting for?
This Advent we’re not waiting for something to come. We’re celebrating what is already here. God in Christ, you and me. We, too, are God’s anointed. We, too, must read from the scroll of Isaiah, must offer words of hope for the peaceable kingdom of God to come, and live in its promise now. The days to come are here, when … we dare to share and live the Peace of God that exposes the “presence of something negative” in our world for what it is – useless and pointless.
Peace, the second true sound of Christmas. Go, tell it on the Mountain! Christ is born!
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / December 8, 2019