2 Advent A—12/4/17
Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7,18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12
Pr. Scott Kramer
Today we at Lakeridge Lutheran Church continue our celebration of 70 years; 70 years of being a presence in the neighborhood and, at our best, being Christ to the community, providing a glimpse of God’s unconditional love for the world…and a hint of Christ’s realm on Earth!
For me personally, our congregation’s anniversary is one of several opportunities to celebrate. In September I attended my 35th college class reunion. A few weeks ago I joined my former internship congregation as they celebrated 75 years. Next October marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. And next summer will be my 40th high school reunion. Lots of milestones. Lots of reasons to reflect and celebrate!
This past week I pulled out my high school yearbook. I recognized faces and names, some of which I hadn’t seen in 40 years. As I paged through the yearbook I was struck by what in my life is different from 40 years ago. For example, there were about 900 students in three grades at my high school. And how many of those do you suppose were people of color? Two! Two girls that I never met. Two whose stories were no doubt very different from mine that I never heard.
In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah holds before us a vision of God’s kingdom on earth, when
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.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
Here is a vision that seems so outlandish as to be unbelievable! Isaiah–the same Isaiah who last Sunday spoke of a time when nations would turn swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks—this same prophet Isaiah holds before us a vision of unlikely pairs who live together in peace.
Isaiah’s vision may seem outlandish but it is not unheard of. I saw a TV show recently called “Animal Odd Couples.” It’s a fascinating program about unlikely animal pairs that not only tolerate each other but genuinely seem to care for each other: a cheetah and a dog, a lion and a coyote, a dog and a deer, a goat and a horse, a tortoise and a goose. But we don’t necessarily need such unusual examples. Maybe some of us here this morning at home have seen dogs and cats that get along just fine.
And how is that possible? Well, usually it’s because they have a long history, right? Maybe they grew up together from the time they were kittens and pups. Their natural fears and animosities are overpowered by the experience of knowing each other from an early age.
Growing up in a medium-sized Midwestern city, I didn’t have much opportunity to be around people whose skin color or religion or culture was very different from mine. It didn’t occur to me that I might be missing something. And it especially didn’t occur to me that what I might be missing could influence the way I think and the choices I make that could have huge consequences for those who are different from me.
Fortunately, I’ve had many opportunities since then and continue to have opportunities to hear perspectives from people who are not the richest or most powerful and whose voices are not the loudest. It is one of the great blessings of living in a major metro area.
We are surrounded by such opportunities each day right under our noses! In Advent we remember that God’s presence in the world is not rare; it is everywhere, especially in the ordinary circumstances of human life! The question is: to what extent are we awake so that we are able to see when the Living God unexpectedly appears among us?
For Isaiah, it’s not just the animal world that offers hints of God’s reign on Earth. In v.8 he holds before us a vision of a nursing child playing “over the hole of a poisonous snake” and the “weaned child shall put its hand on the poisonous snake’s den.” These are not the actions of an innocent child who doesn’t know any better; no, for Isaiah also says, “A little child shall lead them.”
According to the polls, the recent presidential election would have had a very different outcome if left up to the youngest voters. Over the past year they were loud and clear about what they believed. Many were wild about a 75 year-old man! But their voices and their choices, as usual, were mostly ignored by both major parties.
Young people are faced with the mess that we’ve created: wars, debt, environmental degradation, increasing poverty, welfare payments to the rich, and uncertain health care coverage. Apparently it’s okay to use young people as cannon fodder in endless wars but not okay to take seriously their voice and leadership. I wonder how many times over the past year older generations actually sat down to ask what young people think. What are your views, Mr. Millenial? It’s your future, Ms. 18 year-old. How do you see the world? How do you think I should vote?
A little child shall lead them. Is this just sentimental happy-talk, pie-in-the-sky-in-the-great-by-and-by, or religious fluff with no application to our world today? If Isaiah were among us here today I wonder if he might ask, “No? You can’t accept that a child could lead you? Well, how about young adults? Could you risk that much? Could you maybe listen to them and learn about how God is at work in the world, not in the 20th century… but today?
Today’s gospel reading is more sharply worded: a young man in his mid-20s named John the Baptist strode onto the scene one day and told it like it was. He stood up to the religious people, the traditionalists, those who were set in their ways, whose faith had stopped growing a long time ago. He saw the present and where it was leading. He saw the future and he demanded from those in power nothing less than repentance: a transformation of the heart, a change of mind, a change of direction in response to the scorching fire of God that “separates wheat from chaff.”
You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? In other words, John said, Are you so blind to the future? Is the only thing you care about your own worldview and your own self-interest?
Many young people today are not saddled with the ignorance of my generation and older. Partly because they have grown up with different races, different sexual orientations and gender identities, different religions—like cats and dogs growing up together–their world and their worldview is larger, more expansive, more consistent with Isaiah’s vision of God’s kingdom on Earth, and something for us older generations to learn from.
For grown-ups, what has always been true is still true today. The light of God’s present and future salvation appears in the world not through power and experience but through the very young—even, a teenage single mom and her baby in a manger.