Isaiah 11:1-10 Romans 15:4-13
The Way of Peace
This second Sunday of Advent is known to many as Peace Sunday. Peace is, of course, difficult to come by. The world is certainly not at peace, and if truth be told the same can be said of our communities and even families. Peace is in the minds of many a utopian dream that will never see fruition. The realist in me recognizes that peace is not something that can be easily attained and that perhaps there will be interim measures to keep order, if not peace, in the land. But that’s the realist in me, but that realism must be tempered by God’s vision of peace. It is a vision that is clearly espoused in Isaiah 11. But even if a direct appeal to peace is not as clearly present in the Romans and Matthew passages, what all three share is a vision of the Way of the Lord, which according to Matthew, John the Baptist has been called to prepare for.
As we continue our Advent journey, we hear this powerful vision proclaimed: From the stump of Jesse (Jesse being, of course, David’s father), comes a shoot, and upon him will rest the Spirit of the Lord. This Spirit brings wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. Rather than judging by what he sees and hears, this Spirit-filled leader will judge according to righteousness. He will judge the poor and decide with equity on behalf of the meek of the earth. When we hear judgment, justice, and righteousness, too often what we hear is retributive justice, or punishment. But that’s not what the prophet has in mind. No, the word of the prophet concerning righteous judgment, speaks to God’s decision to act on behalf of the poor and the meek of the earth, what some call distributive justice – making things right for those who the world tramples upon in its eagerness to get ahead in life. Yes, righteousness and faithfulness are the qualities that form the best around the waist of God’s anointed, the true heir of David’s throne. And on that day of the Lord, when justice will be known in the land, then there will be peace – the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard with the kid, the lion with the calf – and a “child shall lead them.” Or as another prophet said to a governor: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty (Zechariah 4:6 NIV). Then there will be peace on earth. On that day, when the Root of Jesse stands among the people, the nations will enquire of him and his dwelling shall be glorious. It is a messianic vision, which the Christian faith has tapped into and applied to Jesus, seeing in him the hope of peace. We may not live out the vision with any consistency, but it lies before us, calling us to embrace God’s vision for the world. May we be led by the child of God!
If Isaiah lays out the vision, Paul calls on us to be instructed by what has been written in former days (Isaiah 11, perhaps), so that we might live steadfastly, encouraged by the Scriptures, in such a way that there would be harmony. And why harmony? So that we might with one voice, glorify the God and Father of Jesus Christ. Paul, whom we know to be the evangelist to the Gentiles, looks back into the biblical story, and finds promises made to the Patriarchs of old, that suggest that the Gentiles were to be welcomed into the family. Welcome one another, he says, as Christ has welcomed you, all so that the Gentiles might glorify God on account of God’s mercy. Yes, as Isaiah promised, in the root of Jesse, the Gentiles will find hope, and the God of hope will bring to all both joy and peace. It is for this cause, Paul says, that Jesus became a servant to the circumcised, which I take to mean, that it is through this particular first century Jew, that God has fulfilled the promise made to the Patriarchs, that there would be complete harmony in the world.
If Isaiah offers the promise of what God intends, in this powerful text from Matthew’s Gospel, we hear the message of John the Baptist, whom God sent into the world to prepare the way for the Lord, to make the pathways straight, to get things ready for the coming of the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire. For John, this call to prepare the way and make the paths straight is accomplished through a baptism of repentance – that call to change one’s life in the pursuit of God’s design. Matthew’s portrayal of John’s ministry includes a word towards the religious establishment, reminding them that they should bear fruit worthy of their repentance. Of course, you may be joining me in wondering why members of the religious elite would even bother to be baptized by John. Matthew doesn’t give us any explanation, but even if John is less than receptive, it suggests that even the elite seem to understand that things need to be upended. God is at work, changing things, clearing the threshing floor so that the wheat can be separated from the chaff, so that the chaff, that which keeps us from experiencing the fullness of God’s vision. The chaff may be burnt away, but what remains is God’s glorious intention for the creation. Peace on earth, good will to all!
By Bob Cornwall
Bob Cornwall is Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Troy, MI and Editor ofSharing the Practice, the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy. Holder of a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, he loves to write, having authored several books, with a book on the Lord’s Prayer due out in November. Besides contributing to this blog, he writes nearly every day at his personal blogPonderings on a Faith Journey, as well as contributing regularly to the Christian Century blogTheolog.