PREPARE THE WAY FOR GOD’S PEACE
A shoot shall come out from the stump 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.
3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestors’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
We have readings from two prophets for this second week of advent. Both are pointing to a savior who is outside of human experience and imagining. In Isaiah we read:“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…” The New Testament version is in John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
What is being promised is literally supernatural. It is ‘not as the world gives’ and it is not based upon what we see and hear. The way of the world is embedded in our DNA where survival of self is the primary mandate. Survival of the fittest is fundamental to our evolution but taken alone, it inevitably leads to competition for resources and stratification of people—the weak and the strong; the poor and the rich; the meek and the powerful—and eventually the deserving and the undeserving. Especially when threatened, it is nearly impossible for humans to live in any other way.
The first human sin—the first turning from God is the desire to be like God. We want to be in control. We do not want any sign of weakness that could threaten our survival. We struggle to accept help, fear our dependencies and hate the vulnerability of our limitations. In FIRL several people voiced the hope that they would die before they were invalids. It is such a common thought that the underlying negative value judgement about being dependent is barely noticed. In real life, we can barely tolerate the knowledge that we are creatures. Creatures are born vulnerable and die vulnerable—dependent and helpless. Almost every child wants to grow up and almost every child is praised for getting bigger. We don’t like being small and dependent any more than we like to be old and dependent. We are so used to valuing ourselves and each other by what we do, we can not imagine God’s love extends to us when we can literally do nothing.
So we idolize self sufficiency and independence. We deny our creatureliness. As nations and as individuals, we create walls and fortresses. We make agreement the test for acceptance and default to either/or thinking. Many of us remember the phrase in which patriotism was measured by the words: “Love it or leave it.” Not much has changed. In the natural world, differences divide and evoke more conflict. But human-made means of ensuring safety—self sufficiency, polarization and man made right and wrong— are ultimately short lived and lead to death.
Isaiah promises a way outside of what we see and hear. God’s ways are not our ways. The first step in our salvation is the acknowledgement of a different foundation for our lives. It is God who has made us and not we ourselves. Unless we find a path different from our hard wired self protection, the most we can hope for is a peace that gets us to zero—the absence of conflict. In ordinary secular living, peace is in the family is a holiday in which the family gathers and tensions are kept under the table. Everyone behaves themselves. At least no one is yelling and no one is attacked. Globally, opposing forces line up on either side of the DMZ. Arms races and the threat of mutually assured destruction are designed to ensure peace. The NRA suggests we are all safer with guns. Self protection is the only way to safety. Such ‘peace’ is based in fear and requires constant vigilance.
Only when we turn to God can we begin to grasp the peace that passes understanding. The peace the Messiah offers is fundamentally different from the peace we would create. It is a peace that includes reconciliation, respect, mindfulness and regard—even in the midst of conflict. This peace is measured by our capacity to engage our differences rather than deny them. This peace recognizes the worth and validity of all people and this peace assures us that no matter what happens to us, we are safe with God. God’s peace allows polar opposites to sit at the same table without ever agreeing. Such a faith is naive in a secular world but we believe it is a faith that saves.
But the corollary is also true. Failure to understand what leads to peace has consequences. Who of us question the human cost of our holiday sales? How many of us examine the human cost of our portfolio profits? In a secular world these concerns are irrelevant. What matters is: Did we get a good deal? In God’s world, these questions are critical. Both Isaiah and John warn against ignoring them and talk about God’s judgment in some scary ways. The wicked of Isaiah are the people who do not care for the poor. The brood of vipers in Matthew are the entitled—they assume they are safe with God because they are sons of Abraham. They substitute the form of religion and obedience for the substance of loving. We believe that the way of God leads to the eternal. The way of God gives our lives meaning. But if we insist upon our ways, we will have wasted our lives. Our accomplishments will be forgotten and will turn to dust. We might as well be be chaff or trees that do not bear fruit.
It is a hard way to live. In real life, the best we can do is point in that direction—sometimes. In FIRL, we asked how we might prepare the way of the Lord. Rather than relying on self interest we need a new way of thinking and a new way of living. It takes thought and it takes preparation to apply the principles of God’s peace. Here is an incomplete list of the points that emerged in our conversation:
And most importantly, none of these things are sustainable without the promises of God. God is with us. God is patient with us. God will show us the way.
We await Emanuel, prepare for his coming. Let it be so.
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