Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
Second Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2016
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The story is told about the father of a vacationing family who came across a large sign that read, “Road Closed. Do Not Enter.” The man nonetheless proceeded around the sign because he was confident it would save them time. His wife was resistant to the adventure, but there was no turning back for this persistent road warrior. After a few miles of successful navigation, he began to boast about his gift of discernment. But his proud smile was quickly replaced with humble sweat when the road led to a washed-out bridge. He turned the car around and retraced his tracks to the main road. When they arrived at the original warning sign he was greeted by large letters on the back of the sign “Welcome back, stupid!”
As we connect with the prophet Isaiah this morning, God’s people have blown past a detour sign as well and are well on their way to discovering that the road that they are on will come to an aborted end. The writer of Isaiah is very much aware that God’s people have turned their back on God and that a time is coming in the very near future in which God will seemingly turn His back on them as well.
I stress the word “seemingly” because God never abandons God’s people. In this case, the Babylonian Exile will happen, God’s people will be scattered, the temple destroyed, and there will no longer be cohesiveness within the Jewish nation.
That’s what the stump of Jesse is that Isaiah writes of; a time is surely coming when a Jewish king will no longer reign, the royal line cut off and dead.
And so the writer of Isaiah is calling on a savior to rescue them from this certain disaster that is before them. A shoot to come out of this stump, life to come out of death; the power of the creator God who raised Jesus from the dead after three days and grants us eternal life in the waters of baptism. All of the Jewish nation’s hopes and future lie now in one that God will deliver to His people.
But that’s not to say that there won’t be difficulties along the way. In fact, for God’s people who have so blatantly strayed from following God’s commands and have begun worshiping other gods and adapting to other cultures, there’s going to undoubtedly be difficulties in finding their way back.
And when they do find their way back, their return greeting will probably have the same feeling as the roadblock sign had on the back of it. “Welcome back, stupid.” In fact, it was a humble return for them.
It would take some 150 years, but God’s people would eventually find their way back. The Babylonian Exile would come to an end, the temple would be rebuilt, and God’s people would be gathered together again. At least until they strayed again, which would continue to be a recurring theme.
And so enters into the picture John the Baptist. Had John the Baptist looked at those Pharisees and Sadducees who had gathered for baptism and said to them, “Welcome back, stupid,” it would have been tame compared to the verbal assault that he instead put upon them. “You brood of vipers!” John calls them snakes, and, personally, for me, that’s the lowest of the low.
But John is not one to mince words, and for good reason. John is setting the stage for Jesus and, quite frankly, there’s a lot of work to get done before He arrives.
John’s role was simple: wake people up. Get their attention. Let them know that they need a person to rescue them from their lives of sin and that person is coming. That shoot from the stump of Jesse is starting to bud. Be prepared, for when it opens, this shoot will grow into tree that will not be cut down again, a tree that will stand forever.
And now, some 2000 years later, John’s message resonates for us and is just as urgent, if not more so than it was when Jesus was born onto this earth. John the Baptist is a great bridge for us because there is no doubt that as sinful people, we often ignore the signs that are in place to keep us on the right path and, in the process, often turn our backs on God as well. We choose to hold grudges. We choose to lift up parts of the Bible that make us feel good and ignore those parts that condemn us. We categorize others, determining whether or not they are worthy of our generosity and time. We are so often so guilty of passing judgment unto others when that is not our place to do so. Judgment is God’s realm and God’s realm only. And until we as sinful people fully understand and appreciate and believe that, John the Baptist’s words will continue to prick us over and over and over again, because they have to. Those words need to sting us.
I say that because the theme of this Second Sunday of Advent is one of peace. We should always be drawn to peace, never to division. That’s what that second candle on the Advent wreath that we lit represents. And despite the immediate pain and abandonment that was in the very immediate future coming to God’s people, Isaiah also foresaw a time afterward of peace; a time in which the wolf would live with the lamb, the leopard would lie down with the kid, the calf, the lion and the fatling together. A time when the cow and the bear shall graze and their young would lie down together, a time when the lion would eat straw like the ox. Isaiah foresaw a time when the nursing child would play over the hole of the asp and the weaned child would place his hand in the adder’s den.
We are still waiting for this time of peace, which is why John the Baptist’s words are so poignant. So maybe now is the time to truly hear these words and to take off our gloves and to lift one another up and encourage one another and strive for that peace that Isaiah saw and John the Baptist demanded, because peace begins with us. It begins with you and I. It begins in the promises of baptism where we will proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. It’s furthered in Holy Communion where we celebrate the new covenant that Jesus made with all people for the forgiveness of sin. It’s celebrated in our lives of prayer and devotion, of fellowship and community.
Peace is proclaimed from this place, and as long as we are striving for that peace, God will never abandon us. When we turn and serve our own needs and ignore the other, when we sow words of discontent all for the sake of personal gain and stature, and when we willingly turn our backs on God’s command and direction, we are not only choosing to continue to bear the weight of these burdens, but are bringing others with us and are denying God’s will to heal this broken world.
But here’s the thing; no matter how hard we try, we won’t deny God’s work being completed here. That shoot will rise up from that stump. Jesus will return on the last day. These things will happen. The question is: do you want to be on the road waiting for him when they do, or will you down by that washed out bridge, abandoned on a road that goes nowhere. Friends, that choice is up to you. Amen.