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Advent 2A RCL December 8, 2013

Isaiah  11:1-10

Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12

Our beautiful and powerful reading from the prophet Isaiah describes a king who will come from the family of King David. The spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding. He will be faithful. He will not judge by the usual human standards or by superficial means.  He will have compassion for the poor and the meek.

Then Isaiah gives us a description of God’s kingdom, God’s shalom. The entire creation is at peace—humans, animals, the earth itself. Children are safe. Everyone is safe. Not only is there no war, there is complete safety and protection for all creatures.

The shalom of God, the peace of Christ, is what we are called to help God to build here on earth. Our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, describes shalom this way: “Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day. Where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” (A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.)

Isaiah writes, “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.” This is the world God is calling us to build. This is God’s vision.

Psalm 72 further describes this king. He is on the side of the little guys, the poor and those at the margins. He is compassionate and fair. Under his rule, the earth greens and blossoms and is restored.

In our reading from his Letter to the Romans, Paul is calling us to realize that Jesus is the king described by Isaiah, and that Jesus calls all people to follow him. The reading concludes with that beautiful prayer, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” We all know that there are many problems in this world, but we are called to be people of hope.

In our gospel, we meet John the Baptist. He is dressed like the prophet Elijah, and he eats locusts dipped in honey. Back in those days, if you wanted to be a mover and a shaker, you went to the big city, Jerusalem. That is where all the powerful people and where all the important things happened. But John the Baptist goes out into the wilderness, and the powerful people come to him. John the Baptist wants to be as far from the centers of earthly power as he can be.

He calls the people to repent. He calls us to undergo a process of transformation,  from the Greek, metanoia. He calls us to realign ourselves with God’s vision of a world of love, peace, harmony, wholeness, and compassion. He calls us to “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” That would be the fruits of the Spirit as later described by St. Paul—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees, the religious leaders of the time, are feeling threatened by John the Baptist. They come out to investigate him for themselves. They have a great deal of power and they are interested in protecting their turf. Their religious requirements often place burdens on the poor, and they do not respect the poor and the weak,  Their actions are often not in harmony with the values of God’s shalom. John calls them a “brood of vipers.” He speaks the truth with no trace of fear.

John the Baptist is calling us to open ourselves to God’s love and healing and align ourselves with God’s vision and values. But them he says that one is coming after him who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit. That one is, of course, Jesus.

What are these readings saying to us this morning?  Back on Trinity Sunday, we talked about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit– God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sanctifier. John Macquarrie writes that God has the vision, Jesus is the logos, the plan, the blueprint for human life, and the Holy Spirit is the one who brings about the realization of the plan,=. Te Holy Spirit is God at work in us and in the world. Jesus is our model for how to live. If we are going to follow him, we need to become more and more like him. That is where those fruits of the Spirit come in. We become more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more patient, more kind, more generous, more faithful, more gentle, more self-controlled.

We know that’s where we want to be, and we know that there have been times when we have fallen short. We acknowledge to God those times when we have “done those things we ought not to have done and have not done those things which we ought to have done.” We ask God’s help, we count on God’s grace, we get back on track. That’s repentance and metanoia.

This internal spiritual work is going to help us to be better partners with God in building God’s kingdom, God’s shalom of peace and harmony. If we are at peace within ourselves and we have a strong partnership with our loving God, we can help to make a better world, like the world described by Isaiah.

Mary Hinkle Shore of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota writes,  “For Christians, the One who actually comes as the clearest fulfillment of Isaiah’s word decides that the only way to get to the peaceable kingdom is to live out its meekness here and now, no matter what. He does not breathe fire on anyone. He seeks out sinners. He is himself a lamb lying down in the midst of wolves. With his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus gave us a window on the peaceable kingdom.”

Dear Lord, thank you for your love. Thank you for your grace. Help us to align ourselves with your vision and be partners with you as you build your shalom. Help us to make room for your in our hearts and our lives.     Amen.

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