Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

Texts: Isaiah 11:3
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. *

The perfect world!

What would it be like to like in a world that is perfect? 

In a perfect world people who are 60 would feel as good as they did when they were 16.
In a perfect world we could eat as much Christmas party food as we like and not put on weight, in fact, the more we eat the slimmer and fitter we would become.
In a perfect world we would get a nice fat tax refund cheque, even though we hadn't paid any taxes.
In a perfect world there would be no need to fear sickness, war, or natural disasters.
In a perfect world there would be no poverty, no pain, no hurt, no death and no broken relationships.

We long for a world where we would be free of all the imperfections and troubles that this world gives us.  In fact, the human race has been striving to create the perfect world generation after generation. And we have done very well with science and technology that helps to make life easier, the fast foods and electric appliances that make food preparation a breeze compared to grandma who spent her whole day in the kitchen peeling, stirring, kneading baking, roasting and then washing up.  We have gone a long way to improving our lifestyle and general well-being.  Almost every week we hear of break throughs in the fight against disease.  Many say that children born today will live to be hundred.

Great things have been achieved, but this still isn't a perfect world.  We know very well that not only on the world scene but also in our everyday lives there is room for a great deal of improvement.

And so we come to the prophecy of Isaiah in the First Reading today.  Here is the good news that there is a better world coming, in fact more than better – a perfect world.  Isaiah begins with his prophetic announcement that the Messiah is coming.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; 
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him - 
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, 
the Spirit of counsel and of power, 
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD (Isaiah 11:1,2).

After talking about how this "shoot from the stump of Jesse" will bring judgement and punishment, Isaiah proceeds to describe this wonderful picture.

The wolf will live with the lamb, 
the leopard will lie down with the goat, 
the calf and the lion and the yearling together; 
and a little child will lead them. 
The cow will feed with the bear, 
their young will lie down together, 
and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, 
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. (Isaiah 11:6-8).

The lamb is normally lunch for the lion.  Likewise, the goat is a snack for the leopard.  Animals that don't normally get on – eat together and rest side by side in peace.  And what is more "a child will lead them", the prophet says.  Animals that we would hardly describe as suitable pets for a child – wolves, leopards, lions and snakes are play mates for a little child. 

This is perfect picture of a perfect world.  There is no fear and no anxiety.  The helpless and the innocent live in safety and have no dread of the big and the powerful.  This is an extreme picture.  It is a return to the way it was in the Garden of Eden.

Isaiah is describing in the best way that human words are able the perfect peace that the coming of the Messiah will bring.  "Leopards will lie down with young goats, and wolves will rest with lambs.  Calves and lions will eat together and be cared for by little children" – these words are Isaiah’s way of describing a peace that we only dream about.  It's the peace the angels proclaimed at the first Christmas when they said, "Peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased".  This is the perfect world where God rules and where all the imperfections of the present are past history. 

We might be tempted to say, “Nice poetry, Isaiah.  Beautiful thoughts but let's get real here.  It's a nice thought but a far cry from the real world.”  Before you dismiss as unrealistic and irrational this whole scene painted by Isaiah's poetry of a kingdom of pacified wolves and lions and children caring for normally wild and dangerous animals, remember the context these are spoken.

The world that Isaiah is describing is not one ruled by politicians, parliaments and tough generals.  It is a world ruled by a little child - "a shoot that will come from the stump of Jesse".  (Remember Jesse was the father of King David, the forefather of Jesus). It is the kingdom of the Son of God – the long promised Messiah. It is a world ruled by a tiny child, born in very humble circumstances in a little out of the way country.  In spite of what it seemed this child is the Prince of Peace.  He came to bring harmony and reconciliation.

It is easy to debunk Isaiah’s promises of peace and a perfect world.   But this shoot from the stump of Jesse brings something that far surpasses anything that we can create with our technology, finance and commerce; something far greater than the smartest and most diplomatic people in the United Nations.

In Christ all things have been made new.  As people who belong to Christ, are joined to Christ in Word and Sacrament, are called and committed to following Christ, we have the peace that comes from the forgiveness of sin.  We have been made new and perfect because of what Christ has done for us.  We have the peace and the perfection that Christ gives now and this will become a visible reality when Christ comes again.  When he comes we shall be living in a perfect world that can best be symbolised by a little child playing amongst wild and dangerous animals.

Let's look at this picture of Isaiah this way.  We shudder at the thought of a little child playing near a nest of poisonous snakes, or worse a child picking up and playing with a snake.  Our natural inclination would be snatch a child away from poisonous snakes for fear of sudden death.  But the prophet is telling us that these snakes are harmless.  Their power to kill has been removed.  Isaiah is telling us that in this perfect world death has had its power to harm us removed.  The Messiah brings peace.  Those things that would harm us have been turned into harmless pussycats.  In his kingdom there will be no need to fear the last enemy "death".  As Paul says, "Where, O death is your sting?" 

We are all aware of what it is that causes the lack of peace in our world.  We know too well what it is that causes imperfection.  Sin.  Often we think of sin as individual actions, and that is true.  Sin is the straining or breaking of a relationship.

We are well aware how our own selfishness and jealousy put a strain on our relationships with one another. Sin is essentially a breakdown in relationships. We are aware of the fact that we aren't the husband or wife we ought to be, the father or the mother, the son or daughter, the employee, the neighbour, the friend, the Christian, the congregational member we ought to be.  When we are less than what we ought to be, when we break and strain relationships - that is sin.  And that also goes for our relationship with God. 

Sin is a breakdown of our friendship with God.  We aren't what God made us to be.  We are people who are loved and adopted by God at our baptism, yet we can't seem to help ourselves.  We live our lives as if God hadn't done anything for us at all.  There always seems to be a continuous need to restore broken relationships and plenty of room for improvement.

And this is where John the Baptist's call for repentance in the gospel reading today comes in.  He came to call people who didn't have peace. He came to rescue imperfect people who lived in an imperfect world.

He comes calling to us again today as we listen to him preaching in the wilderness.  If I wanted to go to Gympie and I started down the freeway towards Brisbane I would have to repent of the direction I was going, turn around and go the opposite way or I wouldn't get to where I was going.  Regretting the wrong turn and just thinking and discussing the fact that we are going the wrong way won’t get us to Gympie. 

Talking about our sin, discussing it, feeling sorry over what we have done won't change anything.  Repentance means actively doing something to change the direction we are going.

Feeling sorry and falling on our knees in confession is only a very preliminary part of repentance.  It's the step of looking in the right direction, looking to God for help and forgiveness.  But there is still more.  Seek out what God is trying to tell us in the Scriptures and trying to do what God urges us to do through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  In other words, repentance means making changes to the way we live in our relationship with others and with God. 
If you have been hard to get on with at home, repentance means not just feeling sorry for your behaviour, but also making a change. 
If you have been slack in your church attendance, don’t just say sorry or feel bad about it, do something about it. 
True repentance means changing direction.

Unfortunately as long as we live in this imperfect world, this is going to be a daily routine for us. 
Daily we sin, daily we will need to change direction – repent. 
Daily we can experience that peace that comes from knowing Jesus and the forgiveness he gives.
Daily we can return to the promises God made at our baptism that he will always love and grant us forgiveness, a small foretaste of what it will be like when the lion and the lamb will rest together and a child will play amongst them.

* Contemporary English Version - The Bible Society 1995

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
8th December 2013

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
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