The Absurdity of Peace Advent 2
Isaiah 11: 1 – 5; Romans 13: 11 – 14; Matthew 24: 36 – 44
Peace is a by-product of love and love is a by-product of God.
We lit the Peace Candle today. Peace is the theme for this 2nd Sunday in Advent. There is something absurd about the notion of true and lasting peace in this world so torn apart by violence. Our world faces many uncertainties: family violence, white collar corruption, politicians involved in ethical compromises, entrenched conservatism, fear of refugees, the share market not performing very well, wages stagnating while the top end of town continues to rake in large salaries, there’s fires, the potential dangers of global warming with increased heat and bushfires and our Pacific Island communities facing rising seas. Then we have our personal issues. Peace, what a laugh! Where’s there peace? Do our texts have anything to say to us? I believe they have much to say.
The prophet Isaiah provides us with a beautiful poetic view of his understanding of God’s vision of peace. The images of the wolf lying down with the lamb, the cow and bear grazing together and the lion eating straw with the ox portray an absurd picture of peace. In painting such a word picture the prophet Isaiah points us upwards above the mayhem of the injustice and violence. Those ancients faced an uncertain world just as we so do today!
The context of Isaiah’s prophetic vision is the political manoeuvrings of Judah’s king, King Ahaz. King Ahaz had made an alliance with the Assyrian king which led to heavy taxation of the Jewish people, corruption of temple worship and widespread injustice.
Isaiah responds to the political uncertainty and social injustice with this ‘poem’: –
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
… of counsel and might, … of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. [Is 11:1,2]
The prophetic word states that God will not raise just a new king, but a king that comes from the original source, the stump of Jesse. Jesse was the father of the great king David. However the new king will not come through the natural Davidic family lineage. Rather the king will come from the very source of Jesse – the stump: a new shoot and a new branch. This will be something entirely new. It is not strange to read that the Gospel writers and Paul understood this new shoot to be Christ as we see in Mt 1:5; Luke 3:32; Acts 13: 22 and Romans 15: 12. The significance of this prophetic poem on peace is that Isaiah sees God going back to the beginning – the source Jesse. Here lies our first absurdity. Instead of the Davidic line following natural birth through natural parentage we go back to the very source of the Davidic line, which in human terms is impossible.
The next absurdity is the scene of peace – the wolf lying with the lamb, ox and lion eating together, bear and cow grazing and the child playing with a poisonous snake. In this poem a child will lead and the weaned child will place his hand on the adder’s head. Let me point out some absurdities. The notion of a lion eating straw and a bear grazing in the paddock is absurd because those animals have a different anatomical system of processing food. The absurdity is deliberate and not meant to be taken literally. It is not a scene of a futuristic ecology that will save the earth. The point of this prophetic poem is that peace will only come as a result of returning to the very source of kingly rule. The subliminal message is that we will only find peace when we submit to the rule of the ultimate source of life and kingship – God’s anointed. We Christians take that to be Christ Jesus. We see Jesus as the true Messiah, the Christ, who comes from the source of all things – from the very stump of the living tree – God. Jesus is God with us.
Isaiah tells us that the Spirit of the Lord rests on the one who comes from the stump of Jesse. This anointed king will rule not by his natural senses but with righteousness. This anointed one of God wears a belt of righteousness. As much as a belt holds our clothing together so a belt of righteousness holds our character together. What is righteousness? We might automatically think of righteousness as moral and ethical correctness, but in the Bible it refers to a right relationship with God. That is why John the Baptist called people to a baptism of repentance. That is, a turning away from the things of this world and turning to face God. That is why Paul in Romans 1:16-18 says that all who believe and trust in God will be saved and enter God’s righteousness. Righteousness has more to do with a state of being than moral correctness. This notion that peace begins with a relationship is implicit in our Romans 15 reading.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul adds some very practical things for us to attend to.
- Be welcoming of each other for the sake of Christ
- Include those who are very different. For the Jews it was the Gentiles.
- Live with hope because hope will fill you with joy and peace.
This is how I see the Christian life. Our readings today confirm that view. The Christian is one who turns to God trusting in Christ Jesus. A Christian maintains the relationship with God through faith. The Holy Spirit nurtures the Christian in the love of God. The Christian shows her/his love for God through worship, thankfulness, faithfulness and love of others.
Christ Jesus gave us two commands. The first was to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves. He went on to say to his disciples that they must love one another as he loved them. We have three commands to love. Love God: we do this through our praise and worship. Love our neighbour as we love ourselves and we do this by wanting fairness and equity for all remembering that our neighbour is anyone in need even the stranger and enemy. Finally Jesus asked us to love each other – our fellow Christians – with a self-giving, self-sacrificing love just as he loved us.
That is the Christian life. When we start living the Christian life something profound takes place – we have peace. It is the peace that arises out of our loving relationship with God. God’s love for us in Christ Jesus changes our lives and leads us to a radically different world. The world imagined by Isaiah in the poetic imagery of the wolf lying down with the lamb and the beating of swords into plough shares.
Nothing will change unless we become lovers of God. Nothing will change our fear and prejudice unless we radically love God, and self, and are set free to love others. Nothing will change the injustice unless we radically love our neighbours beyond our neighbourhood and national borders. It is the radical love born of a righteous relationship with God that will bring peace to all beginning with us. Remember that Biblical peace is shalom – wholeness. Peace is not the absence of war but the fullness of a just and fair life for all.
But another equally profound thing takes place as our Christian faith grows. We become signposts to Christ Jesus. The life lived in faithful, loving and humble obedience to Christ cannot but point beyond itself to Christ Jesus and what God intends for this world.
I will end this sermon with a quote from one of John Wallace’s – a member in our church – published poems in ‘John’s Rhymes & Reasons’.
You can take it from me.
There are no desert islands, you see
And you can take this word from me
This whole world is made up of people
But you can’t see that from your steeple.
The Bible tells of a time when us fools
Turn our weapons into gardening tools
I’m truly looking forward to this time
And I think it will be really sublime.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 08/12/2019