Second Sunday of Advent 4 December 2016
(Isaiah 11:1-10 Psalm 72 Romans 15:4-13 Matthew 3:1-12)
“Creating Narratives of Hope”
[This entire sermon was accompanied by a PowerPoint showing slides of Edward Hicks’ “Peaceable Kingdom” paintings, as well as some scenes from Source of Life orphanage in Haiti. Unfortunately, these slides do not accompany the script of this sermon]
When the 19th century Quaker artist and minister, Edward Hicks, painted Isaiah’s vision of “The Peaceable Kingdom” (today’s O.T. text), he took some “artistic freedom” by painting William Penn (a Quaker), into the background finalizing his treaty with Native Americans. For many, this Peaceable Kingdom is the visual image that comes to mind when we read this text from Isaiah. All the animals are there.
“. . . the wolf shall live with the lamb. . .”
” . . . the leopard shall lie down with the kid. . . “
“. . . the lion shall eat straw like the ox. . . “
“. . . the nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp. . . “
“. . . the calf and the lion and the fatling together. . . “
“. . . the cow and bear shall graze. . . “
“. . . and a little child shall lead them. . . “
“. . . they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.”
Isaiah assures us that the earth is now filled with the “knowledge of the Lord” (vs.9). This is God’s total love for all of creation.
“The Peaceable Kingdom” makes great art. I think it is a beautiful picture to hang in a baby’s nursery. But what does it say to us on this Second Sunday of Advent?
I want to suggest that this is a prophecy about hope. Isaiah wrote this at a really difficult time for the Israelite people. Nations were positioning for battle. People were scared. People didn’t know who to trust. Many people wanted a strong military monarch to protect them.
But Isaiah saw a bigger picture and wanted to paint a greater hope. Isaiah believed that to simply hope for a more powerful king was not bold and daring enough. Isaiah’s “Peaceable Kingdom” stands in direct contrast to the terror and brutality of his time.
Doesn’t sound much different than today! There’s an Advent message! For us, hope needs to be more than hoping you’ll get a new iPhone under the Christmas tree, or whatever the latest electronic toy might be!.
Scripture scholar, Walter Brueggemann says that we must push back against what he calls “the data of despair;” saying that Advent is a time to take actions that generate “narratives of hope.”
As on every second weekend of Advent, today we also meet John the Baptist, who appears in the wilderness, saying to the Jews that they were not hoping big enough. John reminds them that God is preparing something so new that it can only be compared to a refinement by fire. To simply hope for such a military leader was not to hope big enough.
So, I’d like share a few “narratives of hope” this congregation is currently working to embody.
First. Since our mission trip to Haiti this past April, the hope for Source of Life Ministries has always been bigger than that one week. While we were there we met with the staff from LWR. Since returning, our World Outreach Committee has continued to work with Source of Life and Lutheran World Relief to establish an on-going relationship. After months of work, our World Outreach Committee will bring a motion to our Congregation Council, to approve our entering into a $10,000 commitment to LWR which will support a container of supplies recently arrived from the United States to Source of Life. One of my personal hopes would be someday to see these hillsides, owned by Source of Life, covered with coffee or mango trees and being cared for by those young men and women who have outgrown the orphanage because of age. This is a “narrative of hope.”
Two…closer to home. With the recent two opening in our office staff, we have the opportunity we are in a position where we have not been for nearly 30 years to re-think how we organize our office here at SJ. Our Personnel Committee has sat together in conversation with some of our younger members who currently have experience in today’s world in Human Resource management to share with us some creative ideas as to how to manage our church office. This is a narrative of hope!
Three: You read in the last Messenger of a next step in the Organ Refurbishment Project, of some upgrades to our organ that were omitted in 2009. We know how important worship is to this congregation, so we want to complete this work. This is a narrative of hope!
And, about the results of the Long-Range Assessment. We are in the process of translating data into action that will include an invitation to the entire congregation to become more actively involved! That is a narrative of hope!
Undergirded by hope, in all these things, we move forward with the practical side is that it is only with generous giving do we proclaim more boldly the hope of God in the mission of this congregation to the community and the world!
I want to go back to Edward Hick’s paintings of “The Peaceable Kingdom.” It is said that he painted Isaiah’s version the “The Peaceable Kingdom” at least 62 times. In all of them, the animals, the child, the Quakers are all there. But, over time, supposedly Hicks grew increasingly discouraged by the conflicts of his time, especially within his religious community, and began to make the predators in his paintings more terribly ferocious. 1
But the little child was always there! So what of this “little child?” Today, of course, this is the child we seek in Christ In this Child we meet divine vulnerability and divine strength. In this Christ, we meet the profound hope that becomes heartfelt mission for the good of the world.
This is the very foundation of the Advent season—a hope so much bigger than the latest iPhone, the newest tablet under the tree, or the “data of despair” that bombards us each day. This Advent season, let’s be sure our hope is not too puny or too small! One more powerful is on the way! Together let’s create “narratives of hope” because the mission of this church, the mission of Christ depends on it! Amen.
1. John Dillenberger. The Visual Arts in America. Scholars Press. 1984. pp. 130-132.