“Let us Rejoice!”
Isaiah 11: 1-10, December 15th, 2019
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Third Sunday in Advent – Joy, light the Third Advent candle
“Hear now these words from the Old Testament, the book of Isaiah, Chapter eleven, verses one thru eleven.”
1 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. 6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9 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. 10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. “Having heard the prophecy of Isaiah, let us allow the expectation of the coming peace and joy open our hearts anew this very day.”
“Let us Rejoice!”
This past week has been filled with the fullness of life; life with all it’s ups and downs. Last Sunday, was my wife’s birthday, and it was after three in the afternoon before I was able to get home. I was exhausted, yet I knew the children were planning to take her to an early dinner to celebrate their mother’s birthday. They took us to a local steakhouse; it was crowded there, but eventually they got the eight of us seated. After we ordered, the children presented Lois with a card that contained a picture of two little black and white Shih Tzu puppies. As Lois began to cry in joy, they said to her: “this is our gift to you, from all of us. Tomorrow you are going to pick which puppy you want to bring home.” And so, they did. Everyone cried with joy as their generous and thoughtful gift became reality to Lois, as we had lost our puppies two and four years ago. She named her Peanut (because she is so very small) and Peanut was wiggling in my lap, after taking a nap, as I wrote this beautiful and joy filled thought for all to hear.
We all want the very best for our children and they for us as the cycle of life moves onward to and through the natural beginnings – as-well-as their endings. We are God’s children and our God wants the best for us. The Prophet Isaiah, a child of God, was chosen to be a spokesperson for the voice of God; we call this a Prophetic Voice. Michael J Chan, a professor of Old Testament studies points us to the obvious message of our scripture writing this morning. “Isaiah 11 begins with the claim that new life will spring forth from an injured stump: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”” We know from the writings contained in Matthew Henry’s Commentary that “The Messiah is called the Rod, and a Branch. The words signify a small, tender product; a shoot, such as is easily broken off. ‘Jesus”, the Messiah’ comes forth, out from the stem of Jesse; when the royal family was cut down and almost levelled with the ground, it would sprout again.” As we jump to our New Testament studies, we, as Christians, believe that the Christ Child is that shoot! And for this reason, we shout for Joy at the time of our annual celebration of Jesus’ birth!
My wife’s new puppy, tender, small, now separated, weaned from her birth family, shall be raised with new love, offering her new life; an abundant life filled with far more than her young mind is capable of grasping. Yet, it is utterly amazing what love can do. By the time the girls got home from their trip to Orlando to pick up this precious little dog, the bonding, the new attachments and connections of new love had clearly begun. Fifteen hours after Peanut came into my life, our lives, I could feel the shift into something totally new springing forth in our home. The power of new hope, new life and new opportunities, fueled by the peace that God’s presence in our lives, our homes and our families is transforming. From this new shoot, this new young branch is the opportunity to freely receive the fullness of love which only God can bring! And from this – one has new opportunity to experience true joy!
This passage from Isiah is meant to remind us that the child born on Christmas Morning, was a holy beginning of something new. Therefore, our reading from Isaiah – it is lifted-up to be read during this time of Advent, as we prepare ourselves, even as we await the fulfillment of all which the birth of the child born of Mary was prophesied to bring. Alan Brehm reminds us: “The good news of Advent is that Christ’s coming into the world brings a light that is powerful enough to shine into every dark corner that can exist for anyone anywhere.” It is so very important for each of us to take time to celebrate the newness of new life whenever we have the opportunity. If you and I, if we do not raise up for all to see, the bright spots, as we experience them, then we shall begin to allow the dark spots of humanity to overcome the light that shines.
As we study or reflect on any piece of scripture, we must not forget the context of our current life realities, even as we seek to learn all which we can from the context of life of a prior time-period, such as the ancient time of the Prophet Isaiah. The time of Isaiah was a time of oppression and disillusionment as the people, the nation of Israel had lost much of what they had fought for throughout their history. So, once again, the people needed to be encouraged and filled with new hope. Hope which would reignite their spirits, their tenacity and their ancient faith which had brought them so very, very far! Our context here in the Twenty-First Century is quite different in many respects, but all too similar in far too many areas of the world. We still have the plight of the migrant, many of whom fled their homelands because of war, famine and many forms of oppression and bondage. There is still the struggle between the powerful and extremely wealthy and those who have been left behind and marginalized.
John C Holbert, a long-time pastor and teacher speaks of God’s plan for the universe. “God’s plan for the cosmos is peace and harmony and beauty. God is bringing this about again and again. But where and when, we rightly ask?” His words speak to our faith and our doubts. Putting together for us the conflict of faithfulness and the disappointment of humanity and life itself. A great many of us, get up in the morning faithfully saying our prayers, setting out to do the will of God, as best we can, yet, fall short of our aspirations, our goals and objectives, because of the conflict between the material world and the Spiritual world. The material world plays to our human weaknesses and the Spiritual world compliments our faithfulness to a God who loves us unconditionally and completely!
Next Sunday, we shall joyfully welcome our Music Director back from her studies in Paris France as she leads our choir in our annual Christmas Cantata. The story of Christmas joy shall be enfolded within the hymnody, the melody of music wherein shall be the Spirit of Christmas hope. The narration shall weave together the story of our understanding of the uplifting and spiritual mystery of Christmas, as our very spirits embrace the beautify of our traditional celebration this year. When we allow our hearts to unconditionally join in our rituals which remind us of the new life that the love of God offers us, peace and joy shall fill us once again! Indeed, we shall experience anew the ‘Spirit of Christmas’ which the Isaiah wrote about for our ears to hear!
The writings of a modern-day theologian remind us of God’s ability and desire to make the dreams of our hearts come true. “We may find and follow our dreams, but only God can fulfill an impossible dream. And that is not to say that dreamers ought to simply sit at life’s sideline while God does it all.” /Richard Wills, Sr./ Richard Wills’ words remind us that it is our God who makes it possible for dreams to come true, yet it is our task, our responsibility to join with God, doing our part in the fulfillment of our dreams. It takes more than the gift of God’s love to make a dream come true. We each need to embrace our gifts. Nurturing them and cultivating them even while we embrace them, all the while acknowledging the generosity of the giver of the gift.
The gift of the Christ Child was bestowed upon humankind long, long ago. The need to be reminded of God’s grace, mercy and love comes all throughout time and most certainly amid our modern day lives. As each day brings us ever closer to our annual celebration of the birth of a child named Jesus, our incarnate God coming to live amongst us, in the embodiment of a child born out of poverty and oppression, let us allow joy to fill our hearts. God is with us; God’s love surrounds us. In preparation for our Christmas celebration let us allow our dreams to become our visions. Let us allow the love of God to prepare us as we are weaned from our doubts and fears, thereby leaving the worries of the world to dissipate in the fullness of God’s new visions and dreams for us all.