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December
8
2019

Second Sunday of Advent: PEACE

Advent, Week Two: Peaceable Kingdom

Isaiah 11:1-10 NLT

In our first week of preparation for Advent—Coming—we discussed expectations: the positive benefits of healthy expectations and the negative consequences of unhealthy expectations.  We asked the questions: “What do we expect of God during this Advent season,” and “What does God expect of us?”

Are we expecting a Christmas characterized by the gluttony of gifts and goodies; or are we expecting God to break into our brokenness and bring hope, healing, and joy?  And is God expecting us to pass through this Christmas season unaffected by the power of the incarnation—God becoming flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ; or is God expecting us to humble our hearts to His Lordship while we expectantly wait for Christ’s second coming?  Do we have GREAT EXPECTATIONS?

In this SECOND week of Advent, the theme is PEACE. The suggested reading for today is Isaiah 11:1-10, which speaks of both the national and kingly origins of our Savior. But today’s passage is preceded by an image of destruction in the previous chapter.  Yahweh will punish the northern Kingdom of Israel with the nation of Assyria; then God will destroy Assyria. It will be a wasteland, consumed like a fire consumes a forest where such few trees survive even a child could count them.

All of this devastation because the people of God turned their backs on Him and, I might add, other heathen nations refused to follow God in the first place.  After the reign of Kings David and Solomon, the kingdom of Israel splits and each side collapses because of moral decay and rebellion against God.  Ultimately the southern kingdom is destroyed by Babylon and the northern kingdom by Assyria.  As writers Matt and Josh Leroy of Seedbed put it, “the wrings of their history were exposed, revealing cycle after cycle of disobedience and hard-hearted sin.”

But in the midst of destruction, there is a flicker of hope.  A sprout of green in the burnt wasteland. From the broken stump of Jesse, the father of David, there is a lone shoot that will become the Branch that will bear new and lasting fruit. The family tree of David will persevere and reclaim the throne once again.  This righteous Branch of David, this anointed Shepherd King is to be born from David’s line in David’s town, Bethlehem.

But THIS Shepherd King will defeat the giants of sin and death NOT with a stone and a sling but with a cross and nails.  The hostility that exists in the hearts of every man can be defeated by the reign of our Prince of Peace in our hearts.

As Paul clearly exclaims in Romans 5:1-2 (NLT) , 1Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

YEAH, BUT…

Okay, everything I’ve spoken this morning I completely believe.  Jesus is our peace.  He is the Righteous Branch of David’s line.  He came to set the captive free. He will judge all people. He will give justice to those who have not received it, and to those who have dealt unjustly toward others, Jesus will set all things right.  All this because Jesus is God made flesh. He is righteous all by himself and through Him we are called righteous instead of sinners. Did you catch that—you may still sin, but you’re identity is no longer as a sinner…one who is alienated from God because of your sin-sick heart. You have been made new…given a new heart through faith in Jesus.

BUT…why is it, since Jesus our Peace has come into the world, do we live a world growing increasingly divided and hostile? Last week we read from Isaiah 2 and we closed with this line, “Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”  The name Jacob conjures up memories of broken, hostile family history.

Jacob’s story begins with Abraham who had two sons—Isaac and Ishmael—who became enemies.  Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob, would become enemies over birthrights. Jacob—whose name changes to Israel—had twelve sons, of which 11 turned against one, Joseph.  The sons of King Solomon became enemies, dividing one nation into two.

Jesus even tells a memorable story with the opening statement: “There once was a father who had two sons…”  There was hostility by the older son toward the younger.  We just can’t get away from hostility in these biblical relationships.

Nor can we seem to escape the hostility in our own lives.  Many of you in this room are no longer married to your original spouse because of some kind of hostility…whether it grew out of a lack of genuine love and concern by one spouse to another…or a lack of effective communication, or infidelity…it comes down to unmet expectations leading to hostility.

Some of you haven’t spoken to your mom or dad, or son or daughter, or brother or sister, in a long time. You may have trouble even remembering what started the separation. Most likely, it wasn’t worth all the heartache and sense of loss you have felt over these many months or years.  You just know you are not at peace with them, and thus in yourself.

Some of you don’t have peace within yourself because of your past. You’ve never forgiven yourself for the loss of relationship with others, or the brokenness in someone else’s life because of something you’ve done or said. You wish you could turn back the clock, but you can’t. And it has eaten you up inside.

Some of you are genuinely broken and not at peace because of a broken relationship with someone, EVEN THOUGH you still live with that someone.  She or he is oblivious that they have caused you so much pain, but you don’t know how to get that conversation started and your afraid that if you do, it will make it worse!  So, you remain silent, bitter and resentful at your spouse while being frustrated with yourself for not dealing with it.

Beyond personal relationships, we see hostility in our community and in our nation.  There’s a surface-level of cordialness to our superficial relationships around town, but just under the surface there is hostility between the haves and the have nots.  The haves turn their noses up at those without jobs and resources, claiming that “if they will just get a job, everything will be better for them, too.”  And while there’s truth that gainful employment brings more economic gain, it’s not that simple. Many simply don’t have the skills to move beyond their circumstance; or worse yet, they’ve lived in their condition so long, they have no hope for a better future.

On the other hand, some within the under-resourced community look with disgust at those who have good paying jobs, wrongly claiming that their impoverished condition is the result of the rich getting richer SO THAT the poor would get poorer.  Rather than rising above their circumstances, it’s easier to criticize others from their difficult lot in life.  Hostility.

On a national scale, we are polarized by those who have wanted our duly elected president impeached, no matter how we go about doing it.  Others support the president no matter what he says or does, if for no other reason than to avoid giving an inch to the other side.  The line between the two is deep and wide, and there seems to be no coming together.

Add to all this hostility the tension that exists within our denomination over the authority and interpretation of Scripture, especially as it pertains to human sexuality. It would seem that the divide is so deep and wide and has been going on so long, that complete separation into new expression of Methodism is the only way forward in 2020.  But until all the details are worked out, what many church leaders espouse is hostility, not peace.

In the midst of hostility and brokenness, we read about our Prince of Peace causing the wolf to lie down with the lamb, the leopard with the goat…the child and the cobra play together…and so on…all these natural enemies will become friends. What’s that all about and WHEN on earth will be ever see it!

It’s going to sound cliché and cheesy, but it’s the Gospel. Two words tell it all.  Ready?

WITH CHRIST…

With Christ, we will have peace. Just before his famous prayer for his disciples and the world—that we would be one as He and the Father are one—Jesus makes this declaration :  32But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33 NLT)

We have peace IN CHRIST. We have peace with Christ. Peace is NOT the absence of hostility around us, it is the presence of Christ WITHIN us.  The world will always hate the followers of Jesus precisely because we are His followers…His special possession.  (EXPOUND ON THIS)

So, what is our response to the hostility around us?  The writer of Hebrews puts it this way : 14Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 NLT) We can TRY to live peaceably with others.

That doesn’t mean we have to agree with others who are living outside of God’s will.  It doesn’t mean we compromise our integrity or the truth of the Scriptures for the sake of unity. Jesus told the crowd in Matthew 5:9 that God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called children of God.

Our UNITY can only be with the Word, and the Word made Flesh.  When speaking about this unity between Gentiles and Jews, the apostle Paul says that Both Gentile and Jew have been UNITED WITH CHRIST. Once we were far away from God, but now we are brought near to him through the blood of Christ. How? For Crist himself has brought peace to us.

But there is also a future vision that Isaiah is having. There will always be trouble in this world, and Jesus has overcome the world. But a day is coming when Eden will be restored.  In the New Heaven and New Earth there will truly be a PEACEABLE KINGDOM where there will be NO HOSTILITY because sin and death will have been defeated!  We will be in the presence of peace forever!

The season of Advent is a time to remember how the Prince of Peace came to live among us. But it is also a time to remember that Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead. And after death and hades will be no more, there will truly be peace among all creatures, especially between now-hostile peoples. 

Until such time, our challenge is to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. AMEN.

BENEDICTION

15Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.16Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. AMEN.

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