Advent 2, 2016

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks–Advent 2—Year A
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

I can’t think of a time when we have more needed the season of Advent than we do this year. It is noisy in our culture, really noisy. Lots of voices proclaiming lots of truths and dismissing anyone who dares to articulate a different narrative. And we go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.

The only way out of the madness is to surrender ourselves, completely, to this season of Advent. To embrace, fully, the call to hit the pause button, to listen with every ounce of our being to what is yearning to be born in us, born in our neighbor, born in our country, born in our world. To surrender ourselves to the possibility that we just might be surprised.

And nobody is better at calling us into a space where everything can be reoriented than the prophets. Just listen to Isaiah from this morning.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

 A stump seems like a useless piece of wood, a leftover from a grand tree that used to be there.  But, if you are rooted deep, then shoots of new life, branches filled with possibility, indeed, have the capacity to spring forth.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

This one on whom the spirit shall rest, he won’t receive power in any worldly sense, but this power comes from a deep, deep place. First and foremost, the spirit is given, not obtained. And it is based in wisdom and understanding and counsel and strength and knowledge and all of these come from, and circle back to, God.

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

This one who is coming, he doesn’t judge the way we normally do. He doesn’t settle for what his eyes see or what his ears hear, but he discerns from a different place, a deeper place; he discerns by a whole different set of criteria altogether. He judges based upon right relationship, the world as it should be where the poor and the meek and all creation are welcomed into the kingdom of God. And as bad as the world is, this one won’t strike back with the fist, but with speaking that prophetic word that has the power to take down all that keeps God’s beloved from the abundant life and speaking that ever creative word that brought creation itself into being.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

This one’s weapons are not the weapons of war and vengeance and retaliation and might, but this one straps on the belt of staying aligned with what is right and trusting in the God who sustains us when everything is falling apart.

And then the vision gets even more challenging, and even unimaginable, and so very hopeful.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

the democrat shall live with the republican,

the independent and libertarian shall lie down with the green party,

the red states and blue states and purple states together,

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

This is the vision of the peaceable kingdom. A vision where we stop hurting each other and, instead, break bread together. A vision where the venomous poison stops spewing and innocents aren’t harmed. A vision where we stop hurting and destroying each other. 

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Isaiah didn’t predict Jesus, that’s not how Old Testament prophecy worked, but as people experienced Jesus, they went back and searched their scriptures, and when they found this passage from Isaiah, something in their hearts sprang to life and said, this Jesus, he is the root of Jesse that we’ve been longing for. The breadth and depth of his love; his capacity to stretch his arms out so wide, to reach out to the Roman soldier and the Jewish leader and the Samaritan and the Syrophoenician woman and the leper and the lame and to bring them all into God’s wide embrace; his absolute, unwavering commitment to nonviolence in his actions and in his words—even the nations knew something was different about his way.

And brother and sisters, something is different about his way. This Advent, let’s meditate on this vision in Isaiah. Let’s pray for Jesus to show us the way to bring this vision to life. Let’s cling to the hope that the peaceable kingdom can indeed come among us.

John the Baptist is right. There’s a lot that needs to be cut down that’s in our way. There’s a lot that needs to be winnowedexamined and sorted—and a lot of chaff that needs to be burned away, so that the shoot that is trying to spring from the stump has a fighting chance, so that our deep roots can take hold and see us through this tumultuous time.

It’s time to get still, and to wait, and to expect, and to listen. It’s time to dare to imagine and believe and step forward in faith that the peaceable kingdom for which we long is possible, here, now, among us.

Look for the shoot that’s springing up, and then nurture it with everything you’ve got. The nations are yearning to see this signal, to see this sign, and of whom will they inquire if they can’t see it in us?

Join Isaiah, join Jesus, join the wolf and the lamb and the calf and the lion and the fatling, reach across the adder’s den to those you fear the most and trust that a spirit of wisdom beyond our imagining will show us how.  Amen.


The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
December 4, 2016