Finding meaning through ancient story
Homily for Advent 4 – Lessons and Carols
Worship at Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 and Isaiah 11:1-4
I want to take you deep into the Isaiah portions from today’s lessons. Remember, we have explored these past three weeks the promises of the prophets recorded in the book of Isaiah. Promises delivered to the people of Israel/Judah in exile and in Jerusalem. Promises the early followers of Jesus drew upon in order to understand, to make meaning of, this incarnation of the Divine they knew in Jesus the Christ.
When we hear in Isaiah 11, then, of a shoot from a stump, a branch from roots, evocative images of new growth, new life, form in our minds. And like those photographs of green shoots pushing through blackened earth, charred tree trunks, after ravaging fire, do these images in Isaiah not evoke for us a profound sense of hope? Jesus was, for the people searching their scriptures for meaning, a source of hope. And we’ve heard how much the people needed hope under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire – so of course they went to the stories of their ancestors, from times of past oppressive rule by foreign powers: stories of God’s promise of hope. Who are the oppressed in our time, and what does hope, new life after fire, look like for them?
To imagine wolves and lambs lying side by side without fear, or cows and bears, calves and lions, and all led by a child – wow! What a picture of peace. And yes, it is confronting for the little ones to contemplate such peace with those who oppress and persecute them, and often with violence. Yes, it is a challenge to the lions and wolves – an invitation to choose to dwell in peace with their former prey. Justice and peace do not necessarily exclude the former oppressors – though they do ask for a relinquishing of power over others. The paradox of this kin-dom of peace is that power with empowers us all to our fullest being, equips us all for our wholeness. Such a prophetic vision must have felt as though it was beginning to come true, for those who lived in the community around Jesus. Jesus, who empowered all, who challenged those exercising power over with his gentle, empowering, authority.
The prophet speaks God’s promise to the remnant, the ones who, after turmoil remain, endure, survive. That promise is that God sees you. God remembers you. A re-membering that restores, renews, reconciles. The scattered – God will gather! The homeless – God will bring home, home into God’s embrace. Do you feel the joy of that? Do you? To our small exile through the Covid, such a promise of re-gathering is surely promised joy! What about to Indigenous communities who endure, survive after colonisers’ genocides, dismissals of their humanity, attempts at erasure of their identity; Syrian, Sudanese, American streets after conflict, war, violence. What is the promise of joy, and how are we partners in living towards that promise?
These promises speak to One, sent by God, inhabited by the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Wisdom. With this one will come justice, right relationship, faithfulness. This one, bringing God’s judgement, says the prophet, will not look with eyes or listen with ears, but with righteousness – or right relationship – or love. This one will judge with love. So that earth will get not what earth deserves on the actions of humanity, but what it deserves as beloved of God. So, the promise of justice. and mercy. and forgiveness that heals all we have broken. Who in our time needs to meet such an embodiment of love? For surely, that is what those who knew Jesus felt, by drawing on these names for Jesus – names not about him, himself, but about the promises to which he pointed.
Promises, as articulated in Isaiah 9 also, which we heard today. Promises that
there is no more gloom for those in anguish
that although God’s justice may have felt harsh in past times, in future God will act with mercy
that the yoke of burden, the bar across shoulders, the rods of oppressors are broken by God.
We hear that the boots of warriors and the bloodied garments of war are burned by God.
We hear, again, that peace, justice, right relationship, will be restored by God.
In short, and explicitly, we hear in Isaiah 9 that with God light will come after the dark. Light will come after the dark.
And it is no surprise that such promises gave voice to the experiences of those who knew Jesus in those years of incarnation, living, teaching, embodying through life and death and resurrection
God’s light that shines – after and even in the darkness. Amen.