Isaiah 11:1–10; Romans 15:4–13; Matthew 3:1–12
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Instead of guiding us through four weeks of preparing for the birth of the baby, our texts lead us to examine the results of Jesus’ coming. Our texts today tell stories of a new world order, a peaceable kingdom.
Isaiah describes the ideal ruler for God’s people. The ruler will be a descendant of King David, and will be guided by God’s Spirit in all that he does. He will rule with God’s justice and fairness. There will be so much peace in the kingdom, wolf and sheep will sleep together without hunger or fear. These images have come to be known as the peaceable kingdom. In the new world order, the ruler’s reign will be glorious!
John the Baptist uses another image from Isaiah, that of a new path through the wilderness. Along this new path, this new way, the ideal leader will appear. John makes no friends when he declares that the current leaders are a pack of snakes, worthy of being trampled underfoot, as the satan was in Genesis 3. The new leader will judge with God’s justice, and sort out those who deserve to be saved from those who deserve to be condemned.
The new world order John imagines is far from Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom. The wrath of God takes care of those who do not offer God’s justice. Yet, John offers baptism as the way to make oneself right with God. Repent and change your ways, repent and change your life! In John’s new world order, those who change their ways will be saved.
In Paul’s vision of a new world order, all people will praise Jesus because all people belong to him. The image of the peaceable kingdom returns, as Paul imagines all people living in harmony and glorifying God. This is the kind of world we seek, the kind of world we hope to live in.
As we look around, it sure seems like the peaceable kingdom is as far from us as it seemed to John the Baptist. There are still wars, unjust political systems, poor people, prisoners, sick people.
Yet there are times and places when we know the world is worthy of Jesus; there are times and places when Jesus is in the building; there are times and places when we can see the peaceable kingdom.
Last Tuesday evening was one of those times. My vision for the Christians United worship event was to gather leaders that represented all of God’s people. It worked pretty well, I think. We had white people and black people as leaders. We had women and men as leaders. We had hearing people and hearing-challenged people. We had people from liturgical traditions, non-liturgical traditions, and Pentecostal traditions here. We sang and prayed with one voice. We hugged each other, filled with the joy of praising Jesus together. Jesus was definitely in the building, and we could clearly see the peaceable kingdom.
The whole world, well, most of the world, is saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela. He committed his life to creating a peaceable kingdom in South Africa. Speaking, gathering folks, demonstrating against the laws that separated white people from black people and people of color, slowly, and then suddenly, apartheid ended. In the meantime, Mandela spent 21 years in prison for his beliefs. But, instead of hating those who imprisoned him, he intentionally forgave them. He knew that to continue the hatred would keep him in prison, even though he was free. Soon, he was elected president of South Africa, and helped the country establish and implement just laws. Jesus is in the country, and as the country grieves Mandela’s death, they all have a sense of being together in a peaceable kingdom.
I viewed a short video the other day. Imagine mannequins in a store window. Perfectly shaped bodies, long arms and legs, just the right amount of plumpness in just the right places. We compare ourselves to the mannequins and see that we are taller or shorter, fatter or skinnier than they are.
Now imagine how the physically deformed persons feel comparing themselves to the mannequins. The video showed the development of mannequins to match the physical deformities of several models. There was a man with a prosthetic leg, a man in a wheel chair whose whole body was small, and a woman with spina bifida, which caused her body to be unnaturally twisted.
Measurements were taken, forms recast, until finally, there were mannequins to match the shapes of the people. The mannequins were dressed and placed in the store windows. In the last scenes, we see the models looking at their mannequins, and really seeing themselves in the clothing. Instead of noticing how their bodies were so different from the perfection of the mannequin, they saw the perfection of themselves. Jesus was in the store window, and the models had a sense of living in a peaceable kingdom.
I hope we have all given something to disaster relief for the Philippines. Leonora has five children. As the storm approached, the family took shelter in a house that was stronger than their own, and survived the typhoon. Their home was severely damaged, and Leonora’s business of selling dried fish has faltered. Too many people cannot afford to buy her fish. The oldest daughter has moved to a larger city to work as a housekeeper.
Lutheran World Relief has made emergency shelter a priority. They have given Leonora and 5,000 more families plywood, lumber, corrugated sheets, nails, hammers, and saws so they can repair their houses. With our help, Leonora will not be homeless for long, her business will recover, and her family will be together under one roof again.
As the Filipinos rebuild their homes and their lives with our help, they know that Jesus is in the rebuilding, and they can see a bit of the peaceable kingdom God intended for them.
This week, think about how Jesus has been in the building with you. Where and when have you experienced God’s peaceable kingdom? In what ways is God leading you to repent?
Please pray with me. Give us your forgiveness, Lord, as we discover our need for repentance. Give us your eyes, Lord, to see what you are doing in our lives, in our places, every day. Give us your heart, Lord, to feel your presence, your peaceable kingdom, wherever you reign. Amen