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Preparing the Way and Lighting the Path – 161204

Bible Readings: NIV : Isaiah 11:1-10 & Matthew 8:1-12

Ochristmas-advent-peacen this ‘Peace’ Sunday how do we marry what we read in Isaiah 11 – usually entitled ‘The Peaceful Kingdom’ with the message of John the Baptist to the ‘brood of vipers’.

Maybe, as we touched on earlier in the young people’s time, we could be talking about the Matthian passage in terms of ‘the Peacemaking Kingdom’.

Isaiah 11 speaks about a future time where danger is replaced by safety, war is replaced by peace, enemies become friends, common purpose replaces competition and harmony replaces disunity.

This future is realised through a Saviour, who has a great mind [verse 2], who shows a great sense of justice [verse 4], who honours his heavenly father [verse 3] who is faithful and righteous or upright [verse 5], who brings a new and great vision [verse 10].

But the most important thing for us, in the time of Advent, is encapsulated in the first words. He is coming! He is on the Way.

Come forward several hundred years to the time of John the Baptist. He too is preparing the way for the Lord. But he is not a wise elder in nice clothes, instead he is an abrasive, perhaps a little scary, man in camel hair and leather with a beard that is more than likely matted with the remnants of past meals of locusts and wild honey.

This is not the messenger that was expected any more than it would be to have a royal baby born in a stable that smelt of dung and animal urine.

We, and the Pharisees, got what we had not expected. If we think about that word ‘expectation’ – it often says more about us and what we believe will happen than a more accurate reading of the signs.

After all, John was not the first messenger to come out of the wilderness. Moses came out of exile in the wilderness to save his people who were exiled in Egypt. David came in from the wilderness shepherding sheep to lead a nation. Elijah stood in a cave, in the wilderness before challenging a power-hungry kind and his Lady Macbeth type wife – Jezebel.

Simon Peter stood in the wilderness of despair before becoming the leader of the early Church. Saul had to come in from the wilderness before having his eyes opened and being made Paul the evangelist.

Even Jesus had to come in from the wilderness before he could begin his ministry.

Other signs abound – which many filed to see because of their expectations.

Against tradition, where the first born son is named after their earthly father, God renews and renames his children. He breaks our rules. Thus Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Saul become Saul and Simon becomes Peter. Elizabeth renames Zechariah’s son John and Jesus did not get his earthly father’s name any more than did John.

It is always better to anticipate that God will work in God’s own way than us expecting, through our experience, what God should do. Let me reiterate this.

It’s the same with peace. We often forget that to get to this state of being, this place, this space we have to be engaged in peace-making. Peace-making does not always look like what we think it should look like.

The Roman Empire rested on the foundation of ‘Pax Romana’ – the peace of Rome. But this was an enforced peace, not a lasting peace, one that did not change the hearts and minds of those subjugated under its iron sandal. There was a deep shadow that was cast by the lit torches of Rome.

Through both Isaiah and John the Baptist – we understand that ‘truth-telling’ through words is part of bringing on of the new kingdom of peace, not via the power of the sword.

The one who bears the light and thus prepares the way must be prepared to change the paradigm by telling it as it is, challenging the established order to the point where the Good News may, at first, sound like bad news to most.

So it is for the Pharisees and Sadducees in their encounter with John, but it is also there in the almost glossed-over lines of Isaiah 11:4b – that the messenger Jesus will use his tongue to strike the earth and kill the wicked.

It is as both authors allude that trees [or habits] sometimes need to be cut down for something new to push through from ‘ground level’.

Indeed a stump may appear to be dead but new life is resurrected from below the ground, even if we can’t see it with our eyes or hear it with our ears – as it says in Isaiah 11:3.

Thus peacemaking ultimately relies on how we react to the truth telling of others.

John calls people to ‘repent’ for the axe lies at the root of the tree that is us.

Repent, as you probably know literally means to turn around. I think of one of my favourite movies – Zulu. Towards the end of this movie after relentlessly attacking the British fort, the Zulu warrior turn around and walk away from their enemies at the end – not because they are beaten – but out of respect of the bravery of those they came into opposition against. This act is not one we might expect but it does anticipate a new world of peace exampled by Christ.

What needs to turn around for you this Christmas season? Who are the truth tellers who make you feel uncomfortable in the pathway you are on?

These people either knowingly or unknowingly may be like an angel or a John the Baptist or Isaiah or Jesus himself – who loves you enough to be holding out a lamp that shows a new path for walking in the light.

In Advent, we are in a season of preparation. Even God is making preparations – so get ready.

‘Pax Jesus’ – the peace of Jesus looking nothing like the more expected ‘Pax Romana’.

Pax Jesus is not forced or controlled – it resides on a different path, but a path that is both real and eternal.

Amen.

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