Sunday, December 5, 2010,

Second Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

One of my favorite Advent traditions is the Jesse Tree. I have only been familiar with the tradition for a few years, but I like it so much that I've written my own devotional book based on it. The Jesse Tree is a daily remembrance of the roots of Jesus' life and heritage, from the beginning of time to his birth. Though different scriptures and moments are used, the story generally includes the creation of the world, the patriarchs, judges and kings, the prophets, and the people who were present at Jesus' birth.

Jesse is, of course, the father of King David. I've always wondered why it would be called a Jesse Tree, especially since we are not that familiar with the man Jesse. Why wouldn't it be called a Jesus Tree, since it is his family tree? Or why not be a David Tree, since Jesus is the fulfillment to the promises made to King David? The name comes from today's Old Testament lesson from Isaiah. The promise here is that there will be a shoot out of the stump of Jesse, a branch that will grow out of the roots.

We are reminded by the Jesse Tree that Jesus' roots go much deeper than David. Jesus' roots go back to the beginning of time, when God created the sun and the moon and the stars. He was there; the Christ was the Word that was spoken. Jesus was there during the flood in the promise of the baptism that was to come. Jesus was in the hearts of those patriarch, judges and kings, though not in body but in Spirit. Their righteousness was faith in God, and Jesus is in the midst of any faith that focuses on our Father. Jesus was in the words of the prophets, who proclaimed that one day there would be a King who is Lord over all. The Jesse Tree not only shows us the story of God, but shows us the character of Jesus, who is, was and will be forever.

In our first lesson, Isaiah describes the perfect leader, the shoot that would come. This leader has wisdom, understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear. Perhaps this sounds redundant, after all, isn't wisdom, understanding and knowledge the same thing? No, a good leader has all three. Wisdom is the ability to discern between right and wrong, good and bad. Understanding comes from the heart, being able to identify with the circumstances. Knowledge is having the facts. A good judge has all three. A good judge also accepts counsel, heeding the advice of those who might have a better grasp of the situation. Might, or strength, means authority and power, and when used appropriately can provide justice. Fear is not meant to be understood in terms of a bad horror movie, but as a state of awe for the One who truly rules. A good leader will be all these things.

A leader will also be righteous, meaning he (or she) will have a right relationship with God. This means not fear but a heart to do what God would do. And a good leader is faithful. He keeps his promises. Can you imagine what the world would look like if we had leaders that were wise, understanding and knowledgeable, who accepts right counsel and proper authority, and who fears God? Can you imagine if we had leaders that were righteous and faithful in all things? We might have leaders that display one or more of these characteristics, but it seems like none truly fit this bill. Only One, Jesus Christ, is the perfect leader.

Isaiah tells us what the world would look like if we had a leader like this one. The lamb would lie with the lion, the bull and the bear will eat together. The world will be at peace; there will be no more enemies, no more hunter and prey. This is a world we long to experience, but it is a world that will not come by means of flesh and blood. Only Jesus can fulfill this promise. As we wait the coming of the Christ child, we are reminded by this text that we also await a second coming, for only in that advent will everything come into fruition.

Until then we have to trust that God is in the hands of our leaders. The psalmist prays that God will give the king justice, that he will dwell in God's righteousness. Every good and perfect thing that can come to a nation and a people begins with the goodness of the king. This particular Psalm was sung by David for his son Solomon, and during Solomon's reign the nation of Israel did prosper. His heart for God, his desire for wisdom, his pursuit of justice brought a golden age to the land. The world sought Solomon's wisdom and the kingdom benefitted. The kingdom benefitted because Solomon stood as a leader and the people followed. They did what was right. They listened to his wisdom, experienced his understanding, sought out his knowledge. They respected authority and had a healthy awe of the Lord. Together they lived in God's blessing.

But even Solomon was not perfect, and his kingdom didn't last forever. The offspring of Jesse, David and Solomon failed to be all that God intended for His kingdom. Only Jesus could fulfill the promises of the psalm. Only when Jesus rules the entire would will peace abound and righteousness flourish. Until that day, however, we can try to be wise, understanding, knowledgeable, seeking counsel and might, fearing the Lord. Perhaps, just maybe, we'll experience a little bit of that promised peace.

So, we look to the Jesse Tree to see the characteristics of those who came before Jesus. What were the characteristics that made the tree strong, the roots lasting? What were the things that they did wrong? What were their successes and their failures? We look to the past to learn, to glean their wisdom and gain knowledge so that we discern between right and wrong. We seek their counsel, to understand God's heart as it has been displayed in the lives of His people. Paul writes, "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope." We look to the past to prepare for our future.

Paul writes of the harmony that exists in a kingdom where God rules. Like the promise in Isaiah, the people join together as one voice, glorifying God. We can't do it without God's help. Jesus came at Christmas as a down payment on the promise, to give us a glimpse of what it will be in the day when He rules over all. Until that day we dwell in the tension of Advent. We know Christ has come. We know the Kingdom of God is near, but we still long for Christ to come again. We are still waiting for the king who will bring peace to the earth so that the lion will lie with the lamb and the powerful will lie with the powerless. We live in this hope even while we see the disharmony of the world that surrounds us each day, the disharmony of which we are a part. This is why we need to be continually reminded to repent, because we still turn from God.

On this second Sunday of Advent, we hear the voice of on calling in the wilderness, "Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." In this story, John the Baptist is looking at the crowds that have followed him into the wilderness and he asks, "Who told you to come here?" The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the leaders of that day; they were the ones who had been called to fulfill for that generation the promise of justice and peace. They failed, preferring to seek out their own righteousness, their own wisdom, rather than God's. They had their history, the same history we read when we use the Jesse Tree for our devotions, but they did not understand.

John promised the coming of the One who has wisdom, understanding, knowledge, authority, righteousness and faithfulness, as well as that humble relationship with His Father. He will come and He will make all things right. He will baptize with more than water and feed us with more than bread and wine. He will give us His Spirit and remove from our lives the imperfections that bring us down. It won't happen overnight. It won't happen in the next few weeks. It'll take a lifetime or more; it will happen in God's time. As we dwell in between the already and the not yet, let us remember our past and look forward to our future, believing that though the world doesn't always appear so, God's hope and peace are as real today as they will be in the day of the Lord.

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