Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Advent 2A

Isaiah 11:1-9

1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
      and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2The 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.

3His 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;
4but 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.
5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
      and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6The 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.
7The cow and the bear shall graze,
      their young shall lie down together;
      and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
      and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
9They 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.

The second Sunday of Advent! Last week on the first Sunday of Advent we began a New Year of Grace. People who enjoy that type of detail will appreciate knowing Advent always begins on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day that always falls on November 30. Advent comes from the Latin ad-(toward, in the direction of) and venire (coming, arrival). We anticipate, we hope for and trust God for Jesus' arrival in our midst.

Except during the great fifty days of Easter, gospel readings during this new year of grace are from Matthew; last week I did a short overview of Matthew's style and content—we'll be hearing lots more! During Matthew's Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) year A, all of the first readings during the Sundays of Advent are from Isaiah.

Last week we discussed signs, symbols, and colors. Back in the olden days of two or three decades ago, the liturgical color for Advent was purple, the color of royalty and of penitence. Although there's definitely a strong advent emphasis on turning around into the direction of God's gracious leading—after all, the gospel reading on this second advent Sunday traditionally is Jesus' cousin John the Baptist telling everyone the time for God's arrival is now, and therefore now is the time to repent. However, hope has become an even greater advent accent, with blue paraments, vestments, and sanctuary appointments. Churches that don't have blue continue using purple or violet. Rose or dusty pink is usual on the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy or Gaudete / rejoice in Latin.

In our conversation about colors and symbols, we heard about some class favorites (Barbara always has red advent wreath candles), and realized though here at church we're using one of the common name series for each advent wreath candles – Hope / Peace / Joy / Love – there are other possibilities. Angels, John the Baptist, Mary, Shepherds also are a popular group.

During this Advent 2019, all of the first readings are from Isaiah. With today being Lessons & Carols, we're hearing a lot of scripture. Here in Sunday School, we'll look at Isaiah 11:1-9 the lectionary formally assigns for Advent 2. Speaking of and hearing about (touching, smelling, tasting, too) signs and symbols, notice creation is central with earth sprouting new growth, animals behaving in uncharacteristic ways. The entire witness of scripture consistently interlinks natural, political, economic, and social endeavors in the fractured world of the first creation, in the transformed world of the new creation.

Although eventually we need to contextualize it for our current place and time, when we read scripture we first ask about the original setting. Isaiah of Jerusalem (sometimes referred to as First Isaiah, or the person who wrote down most of the words of Isaiah chapters 1 through 39) lived in uncertain, scary times, with mighty Assyria looming nearby, but notice how this entire reading proclaims, announces, promises grace, newness, healing, gospel. Yes, we must repent, we must obey, but what a gift first to hear and trust it won't always be like this, we will know the fullness of shalom, and it mostly will come about by God's action, intervention, and presence.

Since the birth of Jesus of Nazareth the church has claimed some of the book of Isaiah and words of other Hebrew Bible prophets as Messianic, meaning they point to and easily can be interpreted in a Christological manner. "Jesse" in Isaiah 11:1 refers to King David's father Jesse; in the genealogy that opens his gospel, Matthew lists Jesse and David as ancestors of Jesus.

We've all loved the amazement of a green sprig or sprout growing out of what looks like a truly dead tree stump. There's actual life there? Most people who've been city dwellers have noticed verdant (I think that means green?) life pushing its way through streets and sidewalks, sometimes into an existing crack, sometimes even making a way for itself by itself and actually rupturing baked earth or cured concrete.

Related to this as a messianic text, Isaiah 11:4b "...he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked" (easily!) can be interpreted as the Word of God that creates, redeems, and sanctifies, the word that is incarnate, embodied in Jesus of Nazareth. The title of one of Hebrew bible scholar Walter Brueggemann's books is The Word that Redescribes the World—draws it over, gives it a makeover, re-creates creation, and redeems it.

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