Fantasy ... or a Vision of Things to Come?

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Advent 2
December 4, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Isaiah's description of "the peaceful kingdom" is a beautiful picture of a world where the Messiah has entered. Peace and harmony and righteousness are in full bloom. Even the animals are at complete peace. However, we all know the work of the Messiah in our world is not yet fully realized. We are called, as God's people, to work toward that vision of things to come.

If you like movies, you know there has been a glut of fantasy movies in recent years. Superheroes galore: Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Black Widow, the Hulk. A quick search on the internet came up with a list of over 30 superheroes in the movies. Then add fantasy and sci-fi worlds - places where hobbits abound, or where the "walking dead" are an everyday occurrence or where the "force" is empowering people and creatures across the universe, or where blue skin is the norm. You get the idea: if someone can imagine it, then someone can make a movie depicting it. There are so many ways to alter reality in movies: scary worlds, wonderful worlds, worlds where nothing is as it seems.

It's easy to walk away from a film and know that it is just fantasy. But what about when a scripture seems too good to be true? Do we simply dismiss it as fantasy? Do we say, "Yeah, that will never happen?" Or do we approach this as people of faith in an unfailing and awesome God who can, indeed, do anything? You will probably not be surprised that I am taking us into that last possibility today.

The peaceful kingdom

Our scripture today begins with a promise of a new beginning. "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." The "Jesse" mentioned there was the father of King David. David himself was long dead by Isaiah's time, but the verse about the shoot from the stump is apparently a reference to a new king to come from the Davidic line who will be empowered to help God's people.

There are questions about which historical event in Isaiah's time, if any, is referenced by the image of the "stump," but whatever is intended, the prophet points to a new beginning for Judah's monarchy. Isaiah describes it like this: "The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him [the "shoot"], the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD."

Isaiah continues to describe this individual upon whom the spirit of the Lord rests. He shall judge the poor with righteousness and decide with equity for the meek. With the "rod of his mouth" he will strike the earth and with this breath he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness and faithfulness will be part of his everyday attire. All of which is to say, things will be drastically different than they are right now! The inequities and harsh realities of the present will be dealt with in a manner that is both fair and just.

While all that sounds great, what follows sounds amazing! The wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the goat, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear, all living together peaceably ... and a little child leading them. The young - all lying down together, the lion eating straw, the baby playing over the hole where a snake dwells and the weaned child putting his hand on the poisonous adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on God's holy mountain; "for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea."

What is this? Fantasy... or a vision of things to come? Do we dare hope for such a thing? It's easy to talk about hope as though it is an easy thing to come by, but of course it's not that simple, and it's not easy.

No, but here's what it is: a matter of faith.

A matter of faith

We've probably all seen works of art with wolves and bears and other dangerous animals quietly feeding together, and they are all being led by a baby we all know to be the infant messiah. Sometimes images like that make it on cards wishing us a most joyous Christmas filled with blessed hope. This reading from Isaiah 11 has become tied to Advent and Christmas because when read through the lens of the New Testament, the shoot from the stump of Jesse can be heard as a prophecy about the coming of Jesus, the Messiah from David's line.

If we find a quiet time in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we may stop and reflect on scenes like the one on the card or those in works of art in a museum. You may, like many, stop and say a prayer asking God for that vision to become reality.

A few things to note as we pray those prayers. First, it doesn't take long to realize that much of life is unfair. Every child in school or in the neighborhood, and continuing throughout their life, becomes aware of the inequities that exist at most every level: privilege, possessions, authority and abilities. They learn about prejudice, sometimes based on skin color, and sometimes based on what your last name is or which side of the street you live on.

Second, we live in a world where hatred and crime and war are always in the news. Earlier this year, we saw Russian troops invade Ukraine. We see anger dividing people in our own land and throughout the world. Crime rates soar. There are many places where it is simply unsafe to walk the streets. People are acting like animals, although that may be unfair to animals. And in the animal world the animals are acting like animals - wolves eating sheep and hawks swooping down on their unsuspecting prey.

Where does Isaiah's vision fit into a world filled with such violence that never seems to end? A Messiah! They needed one when Isaiah wrote these words, and we need one today!

A Messiah for all time

When we read the words of Isaiah 11 with a New Testament viewpoint, we realize the Messiah described here is a Messiah for all peoples, just as the image of peace is one for all the earth. That is true throughout all the years since Isaiah wrote these words. The need for both a Messiah and for peace is clear.

We believe, of course, that the Messiah has come in Jesus. The problem for many of us is that, while the Messiah has come, there is no denying that the need for the Messiah remains. Or to put it another way, the work and mission of the Messiah is not yet complete.

Jesus was born, lived among us, died on the cross, rose on the third day and ascended into heaven. Jesus is the Messiah who saved us from our sin. But the sins of the world remain for all to see. Every day we see evidence and consequences of sin. Just look around.

But the evidence of the Messiah is all around us as well. Every day the Messiah makes a difference in our lives because the Messiah changes people and gives us hope. There are so many ways this happens.

The Messiah at work in us

One obvious way that people are influenced by the Messiah is through the church. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, there are an estimated 350,000 churches in the U.S.1 This includes about 24,000 Catholic and Orthodox churches, and 314,000 Protestant and other Christian churches. So roughly, one church for every 1,000 people in the United States. The churches range in size from just a handful of people to congregations where thousands meet each week. But one of the remarkable things is that people's need for worship and fellowship and service are being met in every one of those congregations. For many, attending church is a respite from a world that is increasingly divided and disinterested in the individual. In the church they call "their church," people are known and loved and have opportunities to serve God and to serve others in many different ways.

Churches meet spiritual needs through worship, through small groups and in creative ways that lift people and feed their souls.

Physical needs are met through food pantries, clothing distributions and through church-sponsored hospitals and schools. Youth and senior activities, Bible study classes and groups for all kinds of interests grow out of church fellowship.

And sometimes, the still, small voice of God comes to one person to make a difference. Leslie, a busy young professional woman in a large midwestern city, believed God was telling her to knit scarves for a local men's halfway house. There were about 50 residents, and Christmas was coming in less than four months. So, she started knitting whenever she could. She knitted furiously and, with about three weeks to go before Christmas, she realized she wasn't going to get them all done. She sent a text to some of her knitting friends and was overwhelmed by their response. With a week to go, she and some of her friends delivered about 55 scarves. God cared about those men, but God also cared about Leslie and led her to give of her time and talents and resources to help others.

Yes, scarves are small items, but the impulse to help others leads some followers of Jesus to work for peace and social justice, to be present with those who are suffering, to do good works. The needs are real and overwhelming, but God calls us to serve the Messiah, Jesus Christ and to serve others.

It's not a fantasy. It's a glimpse of things to come. God will bring the peaceful kingdom, but the time to start working toward that vision is now, and it is me and you together who are called to do that work.


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