Saturday, December 7, 2019

Righteousness Year A, Advent 2, Isaiah 11.1-10

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.   Amen
Who do we wait for?
Who do we wait for?
The obvious answer for us during Advent is that we are waiting for Jesus.
But then a second question arises:  “What are our hopes, our longings, our expectations as we await his coming?”
Do we have any?
We talked about that last week.
“Neither shall they learn war anymore.”
To wait for Jesus is to wait for the Prince of Peace.
And our hope, our yearning, our expectation is that with his coming will dawn a new era of “peace on earth”, to quote the angel’s song at his birth.
And when those angels sang that song, they did not sing of heaven, but earth.
The hope, the promise, is that our lives here on earth will change as a result of the coming of the Messiah, and that we will one day live in peace.
Today, Isaiah invites us to sing a different song of hope.
It’s not just about peace, it is also about righteousness.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
What does it mean to us that Jesus will come to bring righteousness to the earth?
Historically and Biblically, there have been three different frames of reference through which we understood and talked about the faith.
And they centered around who we believed Jesus to be.
One understanding of Jesus’ work is that he is the Victorious King who has waged the battle against sin, death, and the powers of evil, and won.
In doing so we have been set free from the power of evil, free to worship him and live in his Kingdom.
This understanding of the saving work of Christ has been called “Christus Victor”.
A second understanding that has dominated our perception of Jesus’ work for centuries is that of the Righteous Judge and sacrifice of atonement.
In this understanding the power of evil is the moral failures of each of us, our failure to obey the law, and the various sins that we have committed that leave us condemned.
Righteousness in this sense is to repent of those sins, largely understood as immorality, and receive the forgiveness offered through Jesus’ atoning life and death, and then to walk in the newness of life, free from the sins that had dominated our previous experiences.
This understanding of Jesus’ work has been referred to historically as the classical theory of the atonement.  Jesus is the lamb of God who died to take away your sins.
There is a third way of understanding Jesus’ work, and I refer to it as the ‘Family of God’ understanding.
Every time we refer to God as our Father, we are thinking in this sense. 
The problem here is that we have become separated and estranged from God our Father.  We have wandered astray like the prodigal Son.  That is our sin.
And repentance is to return to the Lord our God.
The work of Christ our Brother is to guide us back through the power of his love into communion with the Father and one another.
Righteousness in this regard is reconciliation. 
It is being one with God and one with each other.
Isaiah envisioned this type of righteousness in our lesson for today.
When he speaks of righteousness being the belt around the Messiah’s waist, he doesn’t refer to a great cosmic battle between the forces of Good and Evil.
Nor does he refer to the sacrifice of Atonement, in which the Lamb of God is offered  up for the sins of the world.
Rather, he speaks of the wolf living with the lamb,
The leopard lying down with the kid,
The calf and the lion and the fatling together.
It is an image of the reconciliation of all Creation.

There is one phrase that often captures our attention and our human desires.
“he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”
When we hear those words our thoughts go back to the understanding of Jesus’ as the Victorious King, and the wicked as those evil persons he has destroyed.
Here I am going to invite you to think about God destroying “wickedness”, not the “wicked”.
At least that is what Isaiah goes on to describe.
Our human nature is to desire that our enemies are destroyed.
To use the images from Isaiah, as lambs we desire a world free of wolves and leopards.
As calves we’d like a world free of lions.
As children we’d like a world free of poisonous snakes.
You see, we are locked into a way of thinking.
·         The powerful will dominate the weak.
·         The rich will exploit the poor.
·         The majority will run roughshod over the minority.
·         Violence will leave victims.
·         And every victory will come as the result of another’s defeat.
It’s a world view that cannot free itself from the understanding that life itself is all about winners and losers.
In this world view, righteousness depends entirely upon your own perspective and situation in life.
If you are the weak, the poor, the minority, or a victim of violence, then you hope for the day that the rich and powerful, the majority, and the violent bullies of this world are overthrown.
But if you are part of the privileged and powerful class, then your understanding of the world is quite different. 
Chances are then that you will view your actions as serving the cause of righteousness, not injustice.
I’m rich because I’ve lived a good life, and the poor aren't because they haven’t.
I’m powerful because I’m right.

In this sense, we live in a predatory world.
The wolves feast at the lamb’s expense.
But the redemption that Isaiah envisions is not that wolves and leopards and lions and bears and asps and adders will all be destroyed.
No, Isaiah’s vision is that “They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;”
It’s the lion and the lamb together.
It’s a world in which the snake will not bite, nor the human crush the snake.
There is a disconnect here between our human concept of righteousness and God’s.
As humans we tend to think of righteousness as the one way, as though the whole world will one day be lambs, and there will be no wolves.
But God sees a reconciliation of the whole Creation in all its diversity.
The bottom line:  People who are different from me will also be saved.
It will be “the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.”

Why isn’t this the case today?
Why is reconciliation so difficult?
There are two forces that are hurdles to be overcome in order for reconciliation to happen.
Appetite and Fear.
Lion’s have to curb their appetite for lambs, and lambs need to learn to not be afraid of lions.
Without that, both groups will envision the destruction of the other as the only way.

Who is this Jesus that we are waiting for?
Have you ever noticed that every culture tends to see Jesus as one of them and picture him accordingly?
In Japan, Jesus is depicted as being Japanese.
In Norway he has blond hair and blue eyes.
It’s a black baby that lies in the manger in Africa.
Lambs envision Jesus as a lamb, and lions as a lion.
But what if Jesus came to us, not like us, but in the image of those we most need to be reconciled with?
What if accepting Jesus as my Lord meant accepting those very different from myself as a brother or sister?
That’s what reconciliation is all about.
We cannot love the Father and hate his children.
To Love the Father is to love our brothers and sisters as well.
And no, it is not for us to destroy those who are different from us.
Jesus came to reconcile the world and has called us to be his ambassadors of reconciliation.
And so we wait and we hope for that day when the lion and the lamb shall all lie down together and be led by the child of Bethlehem.

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