2nd Sunday in Advent (A)
December 4, 2022
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading from the Prophet Isaiah.
A common activity this time of year is counting down the days until Christmas. Some families use a display where the date changed by moving the numbers around, others use an Advent Calendar, still others mark off days on the calendar. Many, but especially kids, have their eyes fixed on December 25th, and it just can’t get here fast enough. While the anticipation of Christmas is exciting, not all anticipation is pleasant. Who looks forward with joy a trip to the dentist or surgery? Not many, right? Sometimes what you anticipate is so far in the future that it doesn’t seem worth thinking about. The coming of Jesus falls into this category. We believe that Jesus will return but since we think it’s so far in the future, we lose our anticipation of that great day. So this Advent season, let’s shift our thinking and anticipate an Advent of Hope and Peace.
The book of Isaiah is filled with so many prophesies of Jesus and His role as the Suffering Servant that it’s sometimes called the Fifth Gospel. As messengers of God, the prophets didn’t bring only good news they delivered bad as well. So, Isaiah’s promise of the Savior will come out of the bad news of what the future holds. Listen to what he says: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” You know what a stump is, it’s where a tree once stood that was cut down, and that’s the image Isaiah uses to describe the future. Isaiah is foretelling a time when it would look like the kingdom of Judah, the remainder of God’s chosen people, was a dead stump. Judah wouldn’t be the glorious kingdom it once was, it wouldn’t be a kingdom at all, it would barely be a nation. You’ve all seen pictures of the events in Ukraine – the death, the destruction, the prisoners. Now imagine those events enveloping the entire state of Connecticut. That’s what it was going to happen to Judah.
Have you ever seen a little tree growing out of a dead stump? That’s what Isaiah wants the people to fix their gaze upon. Yes, it was going to be a terrible time, but while Judah looked dead, it wasn’t. There’s a little bit of life there, a little bit of hope. God had promised down through the centuries that the Savior would come from the tribe of Judah, that He would come from Jesse’s line. Jesse was the father of King David, and the prophesies and the promises would be fulfilled. God keeps all His promises. The author of Psalm 111 says, “The works of His hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy” (Ps 111:7). Despite their sins, God speaks words of forgiveness to Judah simply because He is the very definition of merciful love.
The shoot was first promised to Judah, but the promise is for you and your children, for those who are near and far (Acts 2:39). And you need that promise! You must admit that we seem to be living in hopeless times, or if not completely hopeless, at least teetering on the edge, right? Centuries have passed, but what stole Judah’s hope, threatens to steal ours. The decline in God-pleasing behavior. Neighbors who either abandoned God or never believed in the first place. The proud prosper while the meek inherit nothing. The wicked persevere while the faithful are trampled. Things are upside down and backward, right?
If this is what the present looks like, and what we anticipate the future to be like, we need to anticipate something different. Something Isaiah shows us: “His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide disputes by what His ears hear” (Isaiah 11:3-4). Our Advent hope is that God’s not fooled by what He sees or hears. He’s not swayed by popular opinion. He knows the truth and He’ll judge by what’s in the heart. Those lying to themselves and those who’ve lost track of their sins because they’re no big deal will be judged guilty. Isaiah says, “He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked.” Those who struggle with their sins but are repentant, those who fight the feeling of hopelessness will find comfort in this hope. Just to clarify, Christian hope isn’t a wish. Our hope is the absolute certainty that what God promises is what God will do. You can know that God will judge between the good and the evil, and the Christian, you, will see the truth of God’s promises.
Isaiah goes on to write: “But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” What hope we can have as we anticipate the return of Jesus. The poor will be made rich. The downcast will be lifted up. The abused and those taken advantage of will be helped. The repentant will be forgiven. The faithful rewarded with eternal joy and bliss in the presence of that shoot that came out of the stump and became the mightiest oak, our Savior Jesus Christ.
Isaiah’s promise of a shoot is more than a promise to bring life out of death and it’s more than just God fixing the wrongs of this life. It’s about what God does for us through that righteous man. What fixes the wrongs in this life is the unrighteous death of the Righteous One. Paul writes, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). You are a sinner, you have no right to stand before God, but then the shoot that emerged from the stump died on the tree of death, and His death makes you righteous. To be righteous means you can stand before the Father in Heaven and know your sins are forgiven. It’s about the righteousness given by Christ, the righteousness that gives you the hope of forgiveness and the hope of something far greater.
The Advent of Jesus is also the Advent of Peace, and we need peace, don’t we? During this past Wednesday’s Advent service we learned how Cain allowed his sin to morph into murder. And ever since then, there’s been violence and conflict: violent crime, wars, political fighting, hatred on social media, senseless death. These events and activities are horrible, and yet, they’re not going to stop. Our hope might be for peace in our time, but we won’t see it until Second Advent of Jesus when He brings peace. Christians are tempted to think the Second Advent is so far off, it’s out of sight, out of mind, don’t think this way! Life seems to drag sometimes, and a hundred years can sound like a long time, but it’s not because what Christ promises is forever, and at His second Advent, everything will be made new, like it was once before.
Paul writes, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). All of creation, animals, nature, the climate, our bodies, anticipates Jesus’ return. The answer to this anticipation is what Isaiah is talking about. He writes, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together.” Can you imagine what life will be like without death? It will be so peaceful and perfect that animals will live together without being afraid. Humans won’t be afraid of animals or sickness or death. No more fear of the dark or the outdoors or the unknown. Nothing like that will ever cross our minds.
But there’s more to it than omnivores hanging out with herbivores. Isaiah is promising a time free of sin and evil and death. When Isaiah says, “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.” He’s not saying that there won’t be poisonous snakes. Well, there won’t be, but snakes represent lies and deceit, remember Adam and Eve’s conversation with the lying snake? With the Christ’s Advent of Peace, you’re not going to be plagued by the lies of Satan and this world. Your conscience will no longer condemn you for sins of your past. Your heart won’t be troubled by regrets and if only’s. For all eternity you will be at peace with creation, with others, with yourself, and most importantly with God.
This peace with God isn’t just about the future, it’s about right now. When you’re struggling it’s not because God is punishing you or hates you or has abandoned you. When you’re going through the fires and the deep water, the Lord promises through Isaiah that you will not be burned or overwhelmed. He is your strength in this life and while I can’t promise that life will be easy, by the grace of God you will endure the trials of this life. As you cling to God, His hope and peace assure you that it will get better. And if in this life, you have a lifelong struggle, you know that when you enter your eternal rest, all will be perfect.
When Isaiah delivered his prophesy, the people probably thought “yeah, right”. When compared to what they saw and knew, the idea of a shoot from their dead stump was farfetched. Looking around we may not see anything hopeful either, but the advantage we have over the people of Judah is that we’ve seen Jesus. God fulfilled His promises to restore Judah and most importantly to send the Savior, His Son. Still, we know that the first coming of Jesus isn’t the last. We anticipate with eager hopefulness the second Advent of Christ when He brings us into an eternity of hope and peace.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen