Friday, December 7, 2007

A Signal to the Peoples

Sermon for Advent 2, Year A
Sunday, December 9th, 2007
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Isaiah 11:1-10

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
-- Isaiah 11:1

When a new leader comes into power they bring with them a hope for a better future. The early days of a new government, a new city council, a new church leader all come with expectations that a new era has dawned and that whatever ailed the previous administration will now be corrected. The world will indeed be a better place. New leaders always look good when compared with their battle-worn predecessors. Yet, the day comes when that first disappointment is experienced, hope is dashed, and we realize that all leaders are human and capable of human error and human sin.

I suppose it is because we had such high hopes that the disappointment we experience can be so deep when leaders fail to meet our expectation. After all, victory speeches are filled with rhetorical hyperbole claiming in advance victory over problems that have not yet been solved. Simply electing or proclaiming a new leader will not change the ills of the state. Our misplaced trust in the messianic self-accolades of our worldly rulers is what disappoints us as much as the failure of the leaders themselves.

To be sure, leaders are called to high standards, but so are we. To be sure, leaders will make mistakes, but so do each one us. Before we stand in judgment of the ones who fail us time and again in power, shall we not consider our own misplaced faith in the rhetorical hyperbole of those who proclaim the job finished before it has begun?

In the days of Isaiah, the kingdom of Judah was in decline. A kingly line that had promised so much hope was producing disappointment upon disappointment. The current king, Ahaz, had now struck a deal with the enemy to save his own skin – an enemy that would bring great destruction upon Judah. The hope of the Davidic kingship was soured beyond recognition. And amidst the cynicism and skepticism of the day, Isaiah spoke of hope: A root shall spring forth from the stump of Jesse. Jesse was the progenitor of the Davidic line. The line shall be cut down and left as a stump, and yet, there would always be hope – the hope of a Davidic king who would bring forth justice and peace; a king that would be the saviour of the nations. But sadly, we know that the kingship never recovered. New kings would rise and fall in this Davidic line. There would be further kings of Judah in much later times – the Maccabees and their descendents – who came with good intentions but left the kingdom corrupted and in the hands of its enemies. Hopes for a better day were met, time and again, by failure after failure of the rulers and the misplaced trust of the people. Had the words of the prophet even been a farce?

And then, one day, hundreds of years after the death of beloved Isaiah, when disappointment had been heaped upon disappointment for generation upon generation, in a lowly stable, in the cold of the night, a new light shone. And a little child shall lead them. In the most unexpected of conditions, from the stump which had been violently cut back so many times, from the line in which so many hopes had been dashed, David, Solomon, and so many others, a tiny root sprung up, almost unnoticed. Where great kings had failed, this tiny one would triumph beyond every expectation and the world itself would be transformed.

That light continues to shine in the darkness and the darkness has never yet comprehended it. Time and time again we place our hope in our own power and in the power of earthly kings and leaders. Does this not show that we choose to make our home among the darkness? Does this not demonstrate that time and again we fail to understand that under our own power hope is but an illusion? That by placing all our trust in the grandiose promises of those who lead that we have set ourselves up for failure and disappointment?

None of this is to say that we should eschew political engagement in any way, or boycott our polling stations, or cease to work for a better future. No. These things are all important. We should, of course, seek to support those who present themselves for the very difficult and trying vocation of public office and other kinds of leadership in our society. And we should not only support them in their run up to office but in the ongoing practice of leadership, holding them to high standards, offering criticism where appropriate and forgiveness when Christian fellowship demands it. In all things, but especially in things political, we should follow the command of our Lord, to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

It must never be forgotten that all good gifts are gifts from heaven and not of our own making. It is what we do with a gift that honours the giver. The gift of peace has been given to us in Christ. Shall we live it out? Shall the wolf lie down with the lamb in our time? Under our own power – no; but as a gift from God received in faith – yes, indeed, most certainly yes. Is the kingdom of justice and peace possible? Yes, indeed, most certainly yes. Yes, because when all things are considered, it is not a future hope about which we speak, but the hope of the dayspring from on high which has already dawned upon us.

The hope that the leaders of this world offer to us, election after election, victory speech after victory speech, is a utopian hope that will never truly dawn, but will always be met with disappointment because its success or failure lies in human hands. As human beings, in our earthly leaders we seek the restoration of David’s line, but in Christ we meet its fulfillment. This fulfillment is not a future dream to be sought after, but a present reality into which we are invited, because in the human womb of Mary, divinity met humanity, and in such sacred union the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.

We speak of Advent as a time of waiting, and so it is. Ironically, though, it is not a time of waiting for the birth of our Lord, nor his coming again in glory. Rather, it is a time of waiting for the opening of the eyes of our hearts and the ears of our misunderstanding. I shall say it again: Christ has come. Shall we remain as children of the darkness, and comprehend not the light of Christ? Christ is amongst us. We meet him in this Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. We meet him in the human touch of a brother and sister who anoints us with oil in the fear of our pain. We meet him when two individuals stand together in front of the community of the faithful and profess their love to one another in holy matrimony, for the whole world to see. We meet him in the support of the Christian community when we know the pain and loss of the death of a loved one. We meet him when we choose to look into the eyes of one who wronged us and seek common ground rather than a chasm of difference and distance.
Moment upon moment of this earthly life Christ comes to us again and again. Let those who have eyes to see, see, and ears to hear, understand. Can we dare to see that the root of Jesse stands, not as a future hope, but as a present reality, as a signal to the peoples? Shall the nations, shall we, inquire of him? If we do, we will recognize that his dwelling is indeed glorious.

Copyright 2007 by the Revd Daniel F. Graves. This sermon may not be reproduced either in whole or part, by any means, without the express written permission of the author.

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