Second Sunday of Advent December 8, 2013
(Isaiah 11:1-10 Psalm 72 Romans 15:4-13 Matthew 3:1-12)
”Life from a stump!”
On this Second Sunday of Advent, Isaiah has painted a new picture for us. Last week it was a plow. This week: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse….” I see the stump and I see the shoot. But there is always more!
To get a clearer picture of what Isaiah is showing us, let’s go back a few verses to the very end of Chapter 10. God’s been doing some clear-cutting. Let’s look together: [p. 783, pew bibles]. “Look, the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the tallest trees will be cut down, and the lofty will be brought low. He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax, and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall” (Is. 10:33-34).
That’s a pretty impressive plan for clear-cutting a forest! To be accurate, Assyria was to be an ax in God’s hands, but in the end, it is the Assyrian ax that is broken.
So here’s the picture: a hillside totally clear-cut. Everything cut down. The trees, the people all cut clean off! Nothing left to be seen. Only stumps and broken branches. All is dead.
Then… another word comes from the very same prophet. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse” (Is. 11:1). You can’t believe your eyes! It’s a vision! Out of one of the stumps coming to life! A shoot beginning to grow!
Jesse was King David’s father. From this left-for-dead stump of Jesse, will come a merciful ruler with specific gifts—wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord—gifts for governing God’s people. This ruler will also know that the spirit of God defends the widow and orphan, the poor and vulnerable. It is what we often call the “Peaceable Kingdom.”
This weekend, such a vision of a peaceable kingdom where, “…wolf shall live with the lamb….cow and bear shall graze…..a child shall put his hands into a snake’s nest…..and nothing will be hurt or destroyed…” (Is. 11:6-9), is impossible to talk about without remembering Nelson Mandela, this man of courage and champion of the human spirit, who died this past Thursday.
Isaiah’s word of hope is that the world has life, no matter how dead it may sometimes look. Nelson Mandela lived that promise in a way very few others have done. Sent to prison for life in 1964, released in 1990, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and became president of South Africa in 1994—always working tirelessly to end apartheid, that rigid system of segregation.
Nelson Mandela once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can also be taught love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than the opposite.”
Mandela also often spoke of “ubuntu” that word translated in various ways, but meaning something like, “the quality of being human,” or “human kindness,” or “I am what I am because of who we are together.”
Nelson Mandela tells a story of “…..two people, tired and weary, travelling through a country and stopping at a village; the villagers come out and give them food and water before they even ask….” That is “ubuntu,” Mandella says, “they never have to ask because the villagers understand their connection so clearly that they know what the travelers need before they ever ask.”
“Ubuntu,” a peaceable kingdom never happens easily. To bridge the black/white divide that is still so prevalent in today’s world; to bring injustice to light with the intent to do something to change it; to embrace the values of unity and democracy is the courageous vision that got Nelson Mandela thrown into prison.
Fifty years later our world is frighteningly similar, which is why we need the call for similar courage today:
We need the call for courage in a world . . . . . where forests and wildlife are still being exterminated to make room for western businesses….
We need the call for courage in a world . . . . . where more than 40% of the world’s population lives in poverty and suffers malnutrition, while people in the U.S. spend more than $20B per year losing weight, and another $22B on beauty aids…..
We need the call for courage in a world . . . . . where one Major League baseball team signs a second baseman for $240M, which is nearly ten times more than the yearly payroll in any one of the factories in Asia where most sporting equipment is made.
So we see all this and we say: “There’s nothing I can do! There’s nothing I can do!”
>>>>>Here comes the bull’s eye of today’s sermon, so I need you to sit up and be awake and hear these words! [In fact, this would be a good time to look over at the person next to you and if he/she is dozing; I give you permission to nudge that person awake.]
Here’s the bull’s eye! The words, “there is nothing I can do!” are words unworthy of this church and any church! “There is nothing I can do” are words we should never hear in this church ever again!
Why? Because we have that stump and a flower growing right out of it! And we have the life of a Nelson Mandela, and we have the understanding of “ubuntu,” and we have the promise of God’s “peaceable kingdom.”
What belongs to this and to every other church is the hope and the love and the promise of God that there is always, always something you and I can do—we are who we are because of who we are together!
When we act upon deeply feeling a sense of being connected to others by our common humanity; when we truly regard self and others as one; when we cherish human dignity for all human beings– then we begin to break down the walls; then we begin to build up the body; then we begin to bring people together.
Then, we give voice to God’s hopes and God’s dreams, and it is a voice not only to be heard, but clearly to be seen. That, my sisters and brothers, is Advent hope at its best! Amen.