1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2The 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 fear of the LORD.
3His 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;
4But 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.
5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the falling together, and a little child shall lead them.
7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8the nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall pit its hand on the adder’s den.
9The 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.
10On 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.
This is the Word of the LORD
1In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2”Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
We're starting to get into the Christmas spirit. The McAdenville lights have been on for a few days now, and the Lowell Christmas parade is only six days away. Leah and I have a tree in our window and wrapped presents have already made their way beneath it. We've got our Charlie Brown Advent Calendar hung up between our kitchen and dining room, William's bedtime now involves reading Christmas-themed books. Carols and songs about Santa have been playing in stores for a month at this point, but now I don't roll my eyes when I hear them. We're starting to get into the Christmas spirit.
The Christmas spirit is generosity and familial love towards all people. It's visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. It's an urge to be home, surrounded by family and friends and traditions. We are looking ahead three weeks to the beginning of the Christmas season, and eagerly await the arrival of the loved ones with whom we will share that season.
But we are also anticipating the arrival of the kingdom of heaven, which John the Baptist tells us has come near. We are watching for the arrival of the branch out of Jesse's root, described by Isaiah. The Christmas spirit brings us comfort, but the spirit that energizes these two prophets goes much farther than that.
So many of the songs of the season center around snow: "In the Bleak Midwinter," "Good King Wenceslas," "White Christmas," "Let it Snow." In days gone by, we could perhaps hope for winter to tuck-in the world to a snowy innocence. Children of all ages would rush out to play, warmed until they could not put their arms down by the Christmas spirit.
When we're walled in to our warm homes, the snow of the Christmas spirit makes everything look at peace. Stepping away from our hearths, however, we find out that the snow just covers up the same rough terrain that we have trudged across for so many months. The illusion of innocence gives way once we try and travel through it.
Isaiah doesn't give out the illusion of innocence. He imagines farther. John the Baptist doesn't cover over the topography. They advance a vision of peace that is rooted in the presence of the LORD, the nearness of the kingdom of God. Their vision of peace is a world transformed by the spirit of the LORD. The Messiah, God's anointed one, is coming. "The coming one, the promised prince of peace, will be the bearer of the spirit of [the LORD]." The world will be reformed to the goodness for which God always intended it. The winding paths that snow may conceal will not be covered over, they will be made straight by the coming of the Messiah. "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 fear of the LORD."
The vision of peace begins with the Messiah, whom we know as Jesus. The vision of peace is one whose delight is in the fear of the LORD, who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Appearances and rumors will be swept away as the Messiah rules and transforms creation. "With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth." This vision of peace doesn't avoid conflict, it establishes justice, and upends our experience of the world, demanding that we change our hearts and lives and live in righteousness and faithfulness.
John the Baptist calls us to repent, to change our hearts and lives. he speaks from the wilderness, where we do not recognize the comforts of home. The world will be transformed by the coming kingdom of God, which is near. We will be transformed along with it. ”Repentance is not so much about our guilt feelings as about God's power to transform us into God's image.” This strange message has to come from the wilderness. When we’re surrounded by the comforts of home, it’s easy to ignore the Spirit of God transforming us, and embody our own image instead of the image of God.
That’s why the Pharisees and Sadducees get hammered so hard. They had followed the spirit of their tradition until it became and idol for them. The traditions, the Abrahamic ancestry, were trusted instead of trusting the spirit of the LORD to guide them according to God’s will. Their history, their traditions, their national identity would save them.
But John says no. He comes from the wilderness to put them off balance so that they will look again for the Messiah, the anointed one who is bringing God’s peaceable kingdom to bear upon this world. God’s spirit transforms creation, and the kingdom of God is very near. Even those of us who are Pharisees and Sadducees will be transformed when the Messiah comes, whether we like it or not.
The shoot from the stump of Jesse, the branch from his roots, the anointed one on whom the spirit of the LORD rests, is close. His kingdom is near. His kingdom is a transformed creation defined by righteousness, equity, and faithfulness, and the result of that transformation is a vision of peace. “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the falling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.”
The enmity which has existed between predator and prey will come to an end when God’s spirit transforms creation. We will set aside the fears that chase us into violent reactivity. We will set aside the hunger that drives us to abuse, take advantage, and sabotage others. Instead, “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” The knowledge of the LORD will lead us to transformed lives even as we see creation reformed around us.
John cries out from the wilderness, Isaiah speaks out from the midst of crumbling and warring empires. Both of them point us towards Jesus, the Messiah who has already come. ”Our own lives can become peaceable kingdoms when subjected to the judgment and transformation of Christ.” The vision of peace is real, even if it looks far-off. God’s spirit transforms creation, and is already at work shaping his people into disciples who know God. Knowledge of the LORD is not merely academic, like the studies of the Sadducees and Pharisees. It is intimate. It is the knowing fully just as we are fully known that Paul identifies with a loving community. The knowledge of God transforms us according to the image of God, after the pattern of Jesus.