And here's what I delivered a couple of evenings ago for our second week of Advent Evening Prayer:
Waiting with Isaiah: Waiting for God's Promised Peace
Isaiah 11:1-10 & Romans 15:4-13
This Advent we are learning to wait with the Prophet Isaiah. After all, Advent is a time of waiting, of patiently preparing to receive our Coming King. Even though waiting and being patient do not come easily for us Americans, God does invite us to learn and grow in such virtues. Last week we heard about “Waiting for God’s Promised Justice.” Our normal sense of fairness, and fair play, demands that we get justice as soon as possible. However, God exhorts us to wait for Him to give justice. And justice He gives – in His Son Jesus Christ, in His victory over sin, death, and the devil for us.
Tonight, let’s focus on the theme “Waiting for God’s Promised Peace.” Isaiah gives us quite a wonderful and glorious picture of God’s promised peace. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and lion and the fattened calf together.” Wow! What a picture! After all, we know how wolves, leopards, and lions love to prey upon lambs, young goats, and fatted calves. We’ve just come to expect such a “natural” food chain in nature. But it’s far from natural, at least as God designed it. You see, when wolves eat little lambs for breakfast and lions devour fatted calves for supper, we see death – one creature sustaining its life by the death of another. That’s not the way God created His world to work.
And what about that Christmas-sounding line, “and a little child shall lead them”? Oh, we know better, don’t we? Little children cannot lead. Save the leading for older people, more mature people, people who have grown through the school of hard knocks, or experience in politics, and have gained their wisdom for dealing with the people they must lead. Again, it’s not the way God planned things from creation. You see, most leadership tactics have to stem the tide of the sin, death, and evil that we human creatures have brought into the world.
But Isaiah’s picture is still God’s picture of promised peace. No more death. No more killing. No more intrigue and shady, back-room deals among authority figures. No, God’s peace brings real peace. It brings a world of creatures living and lying down together without fear of death. It brings the innocence, purity, and trust of a little child as the way in which people deal with each other. As Isaiah says, “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait to see that Day! But wait we must, because, obviously, we don’t see such a world of peace and innocence.
And how does our gracious God accomplish this peace? Isaiah gives us another picture: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Again, we hear a familiar Christmas-sounding picture. But let’s ponder this image. First, Isaiah speaks of a stump – a cut down tree, a lifeless hunk of wood sticking out of the ground, just waiting to trip up folks who walk by and don’t see it. Yes, God had to make this stump. It’s a picture of His Old Testament people. They had strayed from Him to worship foreign, false gods. They had ignored His many pleas to return to Him in repentance. So God chopped them down. The grand, glorious tree of God’s people had to be cut down and sawed into firewood. Only a stump remained.
That’s what our sin and death do to us. It may be the sin of getting upset with family members, with each other at church, or even with the tired, cranky store clerk who has dealt with all of those other impatient Christmas shoppers. Our sin and death may be our sheer greed in wanting only the best Christmas present for ourselves this Christmas. It may be our tendency to place so much attention on the “spirit of the season” and enjoying that “perfect Christmas” that we forget, or minimize, the God who took on our human flesh to give us His life and His Holy Spirit. So God comes to us to chop down our sinful pride, our impatience, and our self-reliance. That’s why we wait and prepare during Advent.
But Isaiah does not leave us with only the stump of a sawn down tree. The picture that brings us peace comes in that little “shoot from the stump of Jesse.” That tender little twig speaks loudly and clearly: the tree is not completely dead; the tree of God’s people will come back to life. That tender little shoot is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, He comes as a tender little sapling, born of the pure Virgin. But don’t let His fragility in the manger fool you. This tender Root of Jesse brings God’s eternal peace. He ushers in God’s picture of lions and lambs dwelling together. He inaugurates the reign of innocence and purity among His people. This little shoot named Jesus would hang lifeless from a cross, another piece of lifeless, chopped down wood, but He brings the healing peace of God’s forgiveness for our impatience. His spilled blood brings the pardon for our prideful, self-absorbed ways. And when He rises from the dead, He shows beyond all doubt that “righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” This tender little shoot, whose birth we will celebrate in thirteen short days, brings God’s promised peace. “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.”
But, again, we must wait. We must wait until the celebration of our Lord’s Birth; it’s not Christmas just yet. We must wait until the Last Day to witness and enjoy the picture of peace between lions and lambs, the scene of utter innocence and purity among people. And what shall we do until that Day?
St. Paul says it well: “Whatever was written in former days – think of Isaiah, about 700 years before Christ – “was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” We wait, but we wait with hope. And remember, hope is not some mere wish, as in, “Gee, I hope it doesn’t rain today.” No, hope is as certain as a young Virgin carrying a Baby in her womb for nine months. All the peace of God is wrapped in that little Infant inside that holy Mother’s womb. It’s just a matter of time before He bursts forth. It’s just a matter of time before His peace reigns supreme. And so we wait with hope, with confident expectation, with eager anticipation. God’s promised peace does come and will come. It comes in the lifeblood of Jesus that gives forgiveness and life. It will come when He will chop down the ways of this God-ignoring world only to reveal the true life of peace and innocence.
What else do we do as we wait for God’s promised peace? Listen to St. Paul again: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now there’s a breath of invigorating fresh air in this world where we suffocate from living by creed of “I gotta have it my way.” Our gracious God and Savior gives endurance to wait, but He also gives us the ability to live in harmony with each other. In our world sadly divided by our individualism and our personal likes and dislikes, our gracious God says, “Live together in harmony with each other, because you are in one accord with Me.” In other words, God uses our time of waiting to train us in His promised peace. Better yet, when we, His redeemed people, live in harmony, Savior Jesus is showing how His cross-won peace is already breaking into our world, our hearts, our minds, and our lives. Call it a preview of Isaiah’s peace-filled picture. Call it a foretaste of the feast to come – both on Christmas Day and on the Last Day.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Amen.