Sermon - Brad Brookins

Bible Study

Sermon December 3, 2017 - Brad Brookins
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12-03-17  Isaiah 11 / Luke 1

 

Text and Questions

 

Isaiah 11. 1-10; Luke 1. 26-38

The full text for this week is given below.  Read that a couple of times before tackling the questions for this week.

 

Isaiah 11

 1.         This isn’t exactly what Isaiah was talking about, but do you know what happens if you cut down a grafted fruit tree below the graft and a shoot comes up?  What similarities or differences might there be between the “shoot” that comes from the stock of Jesse and the original tree?

2.        These words, too (Isaiah 11), were spoken to Israel in exile in Babylon.  The branch growing out of Jesse’s roots represents a new king in the line of David and the return of the kingdom to Israel.  It is interesting (to me anyway) that the first thing said about how this king will rule indicates that he will give justice to the poor and treat the “meek of the earth” equitably.  His first concern is not with enemies outside of Israel but with the poor of his own people.  What is the significance of this?  What does it mean to “give justice to the poor”?

3.        If wolves, lions, leopards, bears, lambs and calves all graze in the same pasture, led about by little children, what happens to all the fast food franchises in the country?  Who eats and who gets eaten in this peaceable kingdom?

4.        Describe a day in your life if you were a resident in this kingdom.  Would you like it?  Why or why not?

5.         “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain / for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”  In Hebrew poetry, back to back phrases like these are meant to say the same thing with different words.  Discuss the meaning of each phrase and the relationship between the two phrases.

Luke 1

1.         When Gabriel says to Mary “Do not be afraid”, do you think he means you have nothing to be afraid of, or does he mean something else?

2.        Here’s a complex but important idea we need to understand when considering the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament), the New Testament and the relationship between the two.  When Isaiah talks about a king in David’s line he’s talking about a literal king of a restored kingdom.  Over time this king figure became identified with the coming Messiah—a sometimes human, sometimes more than human figure.  When Luke talks about Jesus being given the “the throne of his ancestor David” (Lk 1. 32) he’s talking only about the Messiah who is not at all a literal king of Israel.  Here’s what this means—Isaiah wasn’t predicting Jesus and Luke wasn’t expecting the return of the kingdom.  Discuss how people’s understanding of what God is doing grows and changes over time.  How do you say “This is true” about an idea when the understanding of what is true seems to shift with the times?

3.        This is an important question for the Christmas season, and one we’ve asked before but need to keep noodling—What does it mean to say the Christmas story (or any story for that matter) is true?  How do you know something is true?

 

Isaiah 11.1-10

1  A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

2  The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

3  His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;

4  but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

5  Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6  The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

7  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

9  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

 

Luke 1: 26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

12-03-17

Isaiah 11.1-10

1  A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

2  The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

3  His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;

4  but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

5  Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6  The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

7  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

9  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

 

 

Luke 1: 26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

 

“The arc of the universe is long”, Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “but it bends toward justice.”  What he meant, I think, was that given enough time, and with persistent needling of the Holy Spirit, the human race will eventually get it right. 

 

One day, King believed, justice will “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”, to borrow one of his favorite quotes from the prophet Amos.  One day the “earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”.   And when that happens—or maybe it’s better to say whenever that happens, since we can see even today glimpses of it—“They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.”

The arc of the universe bends toward justice.  This is an apt theme for the Advent season, this time before Christmas.  Because Advent is the in between time; the time when we look around to see the way the world is and always has been, and look ahead to the way the world can—and will, be.

 

In the Bible stories we read in this season we are reminded that there were—and we recognize there still are, poor and downtrodden people who are oppressed by the powerful.  We remember the exiled Jews who lived long ago in Babylon and we recognize the exiled refugees drowning in the Mediterranean or dying more slowly in squalid refugee camps today.  We remember the sick and suffering who had no access to a healer in the days before Jesus, even as we acknowledge the sick and suffering in our day who are priced out of health care and safe housing and have access to adequate education or living wage jobs.

 

Advent is this strange season in the church year when the Bible stories we read force us to face a reality we try hard to deny, but in our honest, faithful moments realize we can’t deny—

 

Not everything is right in the world—in our world; our communities; our families, our lives.

 

This darkness closes in on us in this season, especially as we approach the shortest day and the longest night of the year.  It increases the yearning for Christmas—real Christmas.  Not the commercial glitz of shopping malls blaring holiday music with Santa Clauses on every corner.  Real Christmas.  The Christmas celebrating the birth of one who maybe—just maybe, can turn this thing around.

 

Which means, don’t you see, that Advent isn’t just about darkness; it is also the season of growing light and hope.

 

Hope is born is darkness, you know.  Hope comes alive when we realize something is missing and then we hear words and promises—believable promises, that what we need is near.

 

Hope is the up side of Advent.

 

And the stories we are reading this week and next from the prophet Isaiah and the gospels of Luke and Matthew positively overflow with this hope; with promises of justice, kindness and peace.

 

Let’s look again at the passage Delores read.

 

The 11th chapter of Isaiah was written to the exiled Jews—living in Babylon but hoping to return home to Jerusalem.  Isaiah begins with this image— “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots”.  

 

Jesse was the father of King David.  We’re looking at a stump here, and not a living tree, indicating the royal line of David has been cut down.  His kingdom has been overthrown.  All that’s left is this apparently dead stump.

 

Apparently dead.

 

Because from the roots of this cut down tree, Isaiah promises, a new tree will grow; a new king will arise.  And unlike almost every king since David, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding… the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord”.

 

This new king, Isaiah says, will bring justice to the poor, to the downtrodden, the oppressed.  This king will bring equity and fairness to Israel; to the very people who before had always been left out—pushed out by the wealthy and powerful.

 

The world is about to change, Isaiah is saying.  It looks dark now, maybe even hopeless now, but wait for it—look for it, look for the light growing off on the horizon.  A new day is coming.

 

This must have sounded absurdly optimistic to the poor exiles in Babylon; and more absurd to the even poorer remnant eking out a living in the burned out husk of Jerusalem.

 

Isaiah senses their pessimism, but he ups the ante on the promise with this poetic description of the coming king’s realm:  “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp…They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain”.

 

Each week I put together a study sheet for the adult Sunday School class.  In one of the questions for today I asked, “If wolves, lions, leopards, bears, lambs and calves all graze in the same pasture, led about by little children, what happens to all the fast food franchises in the country?”

 

Isaiah is describing a kingdom full of vegetarians here.  Nobody is eating anybody.  Everybody eats grass.  So no Culver's; no McDonalds.  Really good news if you’re a cow, don’t you think. 

 

And an interesting metaphor, for the world of God’s dreams.

 

A world where wolf-like people and lamb-like people live together; where leopard-like people and child-like people rest comfortably together.  A world where predators of all kinds—political, economic and sexual, choose kindness, and those accustomed to being preyed upon lose their fear. 

 

In God’s dream the world is a place where housing and health care are not the privilege of the rich and the distant dream of the poor.  In the world God dreams politicians don’t cancel health insurance programs for poor children and keep tax deductions in place for their donor’s private jets.  In the world God dreams snakes lose their fangs and their poison, and become playmates for little children.

 

In the world Isaiah describes God has bent the arc of the universe all the way to justice.  And we who would live there have allowed our spirits—our values, to bend all the way to kindness and peace.

 

 

That arc of the universe took a big bend in the right direction during the very first Advent season when, “the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”  With this introduction Luke  builds on the story Isaiah began hundreds of years before. 

 

Like the nearly dead stump of Jesse’s tree, this unassuming couple—Joseph and Mary, hardly inspire confidence or hope by themselves.  But the shoot growing from Jesse’s roots became a king like David; the child born to Mary will be given “the throne of his ancestor David…and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

 

So the story is continuing, you see.  The universe is still bending toward justice.  But this is different.  This is a sharper bend.

 

In the Advent season, you see, we wait for a king and a kingdom—one like David, but  offering so much more.  We wait, as the gospel of Matthew tells us, for the gift of Emmanuel— “God with us”.

 

We wait, during Advent, to celebrate God coming to be with us in a way God had never been with us before.  We wait to celebrate the light of God that shined into our world in a way that light had never shown before.  We  are waiting to celebrate again God’s kindness embodied—acted out—in the flesh; in the one born as Mary’s son who grows to be God’s own son.

 

This is the gift of Advent—we wait, on purpose.  Waiting, oddly, for what we already have.

 

Here in the darkest time of the year—perhaps for some, the darkest time of our lives, we look ahead—just a little ways now, to again see the light. 

 

Wait for it.   And while you wait, trust the promise.

 

Oh—and don’t be afraid.  Like Mary, you too have found favor with God. 

 

Amen.