Second Sunday of Advent
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!
We make judgments all the time, often without even realizing it. I think the worst time for me is when Iím driving. I was on a highway some time ago when a semi, disobeying all the rules, wove in and out of traffic. He used the left lane, which was prohibited for that type of vehicle. He cut off multiple cars, including mine. He didnít get much farther than me because the traffic was dangerously slowed by something ahead. His antics were frightening, so much so I slowed significantly to let him get far ahead. I didnít want to be in the accident he was certainly going to cause.
I made a judgment. Of course, it was probably a good judgment. It may have been a lifesaving one. Sometimes we have to make judgments to remain safe. Sometimes, however, we make judgments because we are annoyed or inconvenienced. I do this often. I grumble whenever another driver does something brainless and usually say something nasty. I make judgments about public figures who donít live up to the standards I think should be kept. I make judgments about the people I hear on the news or see on the streets. I even make judgments about fictional characters in movies or books. ďI canít believe they would do it that way,Ē I think to myself.
We all make judgments, both good and bad. We make judgments that are helpful and others that are not so helpful. The judgment of a court can help transform someone who has done something wrong; other judgments can cause people to rebel or retreat. Our judgments can help or they can hurt. Thatís why we are warned to be careful about how we judge our neighbors.
We make our judgments based on our biases and our experiences. I judged that truck driver because I knew that dangerous driving can hurt others. However, some judgments just arenít right. When we judge someone just because they are different than us, because of something beyond their control, we can harm them in ways we might not expect. Too often, and all of us do it in some way or another, we judge because of what we see and hear. We judge because someone looks different or acts different or sounds different.
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, isnít 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.
Isaiah says, ďHe will not judge by the sight of his eyes, neither decide by the hearing of his ears.Ē Human judges have limitations. We do judge by the sight of our eyes and decide by the hearing of our ears. We also make mistakes. We are not always as wise, understanding, or knowledgeable as we should be. We fail to listen to good advice; we take advantage of our power in inappropriate ways. We donít always fear God as we should.
A good leader will be righteous. This means he (or she) will have a right relationship with God. This means having 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 are wise, understanding and knowledgeable, who accept right counsel and proper authority, and who fear 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.
During Advent we await the coming of that perfect leader. As Christians we know He arrived more than two thousand years ago, but even as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we are called to live in the hope of His second coming. During Advent we await the shoot of Jesse that was promised by God through the prophet Isaiah.
This message from the prophet reminds us of the promise made to David long before Jesus was born. Imperfect, but loved as a son, David, Jesseís son, was the first in a line of kings that would last forever. ďHe will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.Ē (2 Samuel 7:13) Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of that promise, and during this Advent season we await His coming again.
Isaiah tells us what the world will look like under this promised leader. The lamb will 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.
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 canít do it without Godís 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. That disharmony comes because we do not judge righteously. This is why we need to be continually reminded to repent, because we still fail to live according to Godís Word.
Paul reminds us of the promise from Isaiah so that we can live in hope and joy. ďNow may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.Ē This joy and peace wonít come from our work or our righteousness. It is a gift of God. When we live in this hope, we can find harmony where there is disharmony.
There will come a day when the entire world is in harmony again. The wolves and the leopards will lie with the sheep and the goats. There will be no need for animals to kill, for they will be satisfied by Godís provision. In that day even human beings will live in harmony with one another. No longer will men and women harm others for the sake of some unnatural desire. There will be no need for war or hatred. We will be restored to our God and will live in His presence for eternity; we wonít have need of anything because God will provide. Our work will be praising God and our joy will be lasting. It is no wonder that we sigh with anticipation, especially since our human leaders so often fail us.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were the leaders of Godís people in Johnís time. In the Gospel lesson from Matthew we hear his voice, the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ďRepent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!Ē John the Baptist knew that the leaders were not taking care of Godís people. Israelís history was filled with leaders who sought their own righteousness, their own power, their own glory. They were called to rule with justice and peace, but they failed. Nothing was different in Johnís day. John spoke to those that had followed him into the wilderness and asked, ďWho told you to come here?Ē The Pharisees and the Sadducees had their history, the same history we read in the Old Testament prophecies, 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 wonít happen overnight. It wonít happen in the next few weeks. Itíll take a lifetime or more; it will happen in Godís time.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees went to the river because they were curious about his ministry. They wanted to know if he was claiming to be the Messiah. They wanted to squelch his ministry before it got out of control. They wanted to destroy him. John was talking to them when he said ďYou offspring of vipers,Ē but his word cuts to our hearts too. We have our facades, our masks, our sins from which we must repent. We are arrogant and haughty. We do not bear the fruit worthy of repentance. We judge according to what we see and hear rather than according to Godís Word. This is why we remember Johnís call for repentance each year, calling us to prepare the way of the Lord. Though Christ has already come, we are still longing for the fulfillment of the promise of a world restored to God. We remain sinners even while we are saints. We have been baptized with the Spirit, but we still need daily repentance.
We dwell in a time between the already and the not yet. We know that the Christ child has come, but we wait for Him to come again as King. We know that Christ has died, but we wait until that day when the forgiveness that came with His blood is fully realized. We wait for that which already is but is yet to be.
The psalmist prays that God will give the king justice, that he will dwell in Godís righteousness. Every good and perfect thing that can come to a nation and a people begins with the goodness of the king. Todayís psalm was written by Solomon, and during his 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 Solomonís 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 didnít last forever. The offspring of Jesse - David, Solomon and the kings that followed - failed to be all that God intended for His kingdom. Only Jesus could fulfill the promise. 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, weíll experience a little bit of that promised peace.
The world as God created it to be will not be restored until His second coming. Until that day, the lion will not lie with the lamb. However, in Christ we can live in harmony with one another, the powerful with the powerless. We still live in an age of repentance as we wait for the coming of our King. In the meantime, we can work for justice, caring for the poor and the weak. We can be heralds of Godís grace, proclaiming the coming of the kingdom so that others might prepare their hearts to receive Him now. Through our witness, God will be glorified in this world.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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