II Advent, Sunday 8 December, 2019
Prepare the way, O Zion,
your Christ is drawing near!
Let every hill and valley
a level way appear.
Greet One who comes in glory,
foretold in sacred story.
Fling wide you gates, O Zion;
your Savior’s rule embrace.
His tidings of salvation
proclaim in every place.
All lands will bow before him,
their voices will adore him.
O, blest is Christ that came
in God’s most holy name.
As December marches on, we are treated to a never-ending stream of year-end top ten lists, best-ofs, and other year-in-review related content wherever we look. I admit that I’m a complete sucker for this kind of thing, and I, like so many others, find a good top ten list almost irresistible. One piece of year-end superlative got my attention this past week. The YouVersion Bible App, the most popular Bible-reading app, used the world over, recently published its most read, shared, highlighted Scripture verse from 2019. It’s a lovely little verse from the fourth chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians; it reads:
Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
It’s an encouragement from the Apostle to his beloved friends to be free from worry while being consistent in offering prayer.
The more I thought about this tidbit, the more it seemed to line up with the general feel so many people have felt throughout the past year. People have been searching for a relief from anxiety, stress, and yes, worry and thus it’s not so surprising that a text like Philippians 4:6 would engage the hearts and minds of so many across the globe. They, we, are seeking God’s peace.
This second Advent candle symbolizes that very promise, especially present in the words of the prophets, as we prayed this morning, but especially present to us today in our reading from the prophet Isaiah. In this amazing text, we heard about God’s promise of peace as a result of the God’s power made manifest in the Messiah’s reign. Isaiah told of one to come, a person from the same family of King David’s father, Jesse, who would completely embody God’s goodness, loving-kindness, and justice. This is rendered so beautifully in Isaiah’s prose. Listen again:
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.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
And by the mighty and just rule of this wise, mighty, just, and humble one to come, the nature of the world would fundamentally change. After the the problem of wickedness and evil is totally, completely dealt with, all sorts of weird things will happen. Well, weird to us, anyway, who still have to deal with the results of evil pretty regularly. But the hope that Isaiah preached is a peace so total that the wolf will no longer poach the lamb from the shepherd’s field, and the leopard will no longer stalk the defenseless goat. A child shall lead; as innocence will no longer be a liability for the leader. Indeed, innocence is a prerequisite for this kind of existence. This peace is not just the absence of conflict, nice as that sounds, but a healing of the very nature of creation towards full cooperation and enjoyment between all living things. One verse grabbed my attention especially in that regard. We read:
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
Isaiah is teaching us that the full reign of the messiah will change things so completely that even the most defenseless will no longer live in fear of the dreaded and venomous serpents.
The best part is that this new world would be on offer to all nations. Notice again the final verse of today’s lesson:
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.
The goodness of God’s rule in the culmination of the Messiah’s rule wouldn’t just be open for Isaiah’s kinsman but to all people. All people would be able to know true peace in God’s kingdom, and have a place where God lives.
Given this promise of a peace which truly surpasses all understanding, it’s not surprising that people like St. John the Baptist and St. Paul would read Isaiah and marvel at what was to come in Christ. For John, his ministry of repentance was a sign to his countrymen that their hearts must be made pure and holy as they awaited and prepared for the Messiah’s first Advent. His warning to the Scribes and Pharisees emphasized the call to turn back to God and appears to rebuke the idea that John’s baptism was simply another box to check rather than the sign of a desire to align with the coming peace of God and His Messiah. For John, the inauguration of Isaiah’s peace was coming soon. He was right of course; Jesus ministry would indeed inaugurate God’s peaceable kingdom on earth.
We would see that peace break in, and like I mentioned a bit ago: some weird things happened. One weird thing, maybe the best weird thing, Christ’s resurrection from his death on the cross would be that which proved Isaiah correct: the innocent one would no longer fear death’s venom. And after that, the nations would begin to respond just as Isaiah preached. Paul would preach to communities of blended nationality, Hebrew and Greek, and would teach them that the response to Christ’s coming was to live together in peace, laying aside all those enmities that kept them from the peace that God had intended for them from the beginning. Paul would quote another part of Isaiah’s prophecy in his letter to the Romans as he encouraged the flourishing of God’s peace among the newly constituted Church of Jesus Christ:
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”
The peace that would bring the wolf and lamb out of mortal conflict, this peace would be available to the Church, to the mixed body of nations present in the congregation around Christ’s Body and Blood. That peace would allow Christ’s people to, as Paul wrote to the Romans:
…live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together [they] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Beloved, this peace is here for us in Christ, even as we know him here and now, and will be present in its fullness at the end of the age upon his glorious return. The peace that resides over this place, as a result of God’s faithful ministry, is meant for people to come and receive the light of God’s total peace. That peace, again not just the absence of conflict, but a state of being where cooperation, enjoyment, and harmony are part of our nature as we participate in Christ’s body.
This December, I pray that we would continue to dwell in Christ’s peace together so that we can make a difference in this world. The news was bleak once again this last week with so much violence, so much despair, so much that makes peace seem like a far off and fleeting dream. But our news feed should only make us hasten to bring Christ laud in our desire to care for needs of the world, by our joy lighting the darkened spots of our lives. And yes, that peace and joy is available to us in our own lives as each one of us contends with the trials of this present age. But as Isaiah preached to a people so beset by the oppression of captivity, and John to a people so beset by the oppression of the Romans, and Paul to a people coming together quite imperfectly under the banner of Christ, we know that God was present with them and therefore we can trust that God is with us. So, as you go into this week,
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
To Christ be all glory from age to age. Amen.
The Very Rev. David Bumsted
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
1603 E Winter Park Rd.
Orlando, FL 32803