Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; December 4, 2022
2nd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13
On this second Sunday of Advent, we continue our journey to Bethlehem. To guide us, again we turn to the Isaiah, the prophet and poet of light. In a time of darkness for the people of Israel, Isaiah finds hope in a stump—of all things. David’s house may have fallen for a time, but from its roots a branch will grow. A second David is on the way—one who will usher in a time of peace—even animals that are natural born enemies, driven by instincts to kill one another, will dwell in harmony.[i]
Merriam-Webster defines peace as a state of tranquility or quiet, a greeting or word of farewell, a state of security or order within a community provided by law or custom, freedom from oppressive thoughts or emotions, or a pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war.
Too often, peace eludes us but we long for it, nonetheless. Our desire for peace is evident in the ways the word permeates our conversations. We use phrases like peace of mind, disturb the peace, hold one’s peace, make one’s peace with someone, peace offering, peace and quiet, speak now or forever hold your peace, rest in peace, world peace, keep the peace, peace out, and prince of peace. Yes, we often use the word “peace,” but how often do we experience it?
In Isaiah’s prophecy, the wolf dwells alongside the lamb, the leopard lies down with the kid, the cow and bear graze together and a little child leads them. If animals can do such things, how much more can humans do? How might people of all races accept each other and combine resources to build a better world? How might those who vehemently disagree on political issues, join forces to work together for the good of God’s beloved creation?
Without a doubt, we live in a time of unrest that leaves us feeling fearful and vulnerable. This week, for example, Kinney and I were on the way to church to set up for the contemplative service and a patrol car passed us going about 100 mph. When we reached downtown, another patrol car whizzed through the traffic light. When I got to the church office, Katie Altman was in a state of panic. She relayed the heart-sinking news that the Valdosta Police Department had received a call about an active shooter inside Valdosta High School and several students had been shot. Sissy Almand came in at about that time and she had heard the same report. As we tried to process that, yet another mass shooting was under way, and in our own community, all I could think to do was pray. And so, we did. Half an hour or more passed before the police department confirmed the good news that after a thorough search there was no active shooter, nor were there any injuries reported. While we were overcome by a sense of relief, I could not imagine the horror that hundreds of parents and youth had just experienced.
As a nation, we are too acquainted with heartbreaking images of children suffering in places that used to be safe places—places like school and college campuses. Surely, in our hearts, we grieve the loss of their innocence and our own. Might Isaiah offer us a word of hope?
One biblical commentator suggests that Isaiah’s word is not only a word about a secure future, but also a word of security and hope for now—for people like us living in frightening times. She writes,
According to Isaiah, the transformation from a culture of fear to a world at peace begins with a stump. Out of something that appears finished, lifeless, left behind, comes the sign of new life—a green sprig. This is how hope gets its start—it emerges as a tiny tendril in an unexpected place.[ii]
When you think of your own life, where do you see a stump? In what ways do you feel cut off or hopeless? Is it possible that even now God is nurturing something new and good for you and those you love? And if you are discouraged, how might you learn to keep watch for tiny signs of hope, for tiny tendrils emerging in unexpected places?
In our modern world, hope may seem illusive, but it is the very theme of Paul’s word to the church in Rome. Cynthia Campbell of McCormick Theological Seminary explains:
For many of us, hope may be something of a court of last resort: it is what we do after all our planning and preparing is done; it is what we do if we cannot fix whatever the problem is. Such a perspective puts us at the center of the universe, of course, and God is what is there to take up the slack.
For others, hope is buying a lottery ticket or going to a casino. It is imagining that there is some force in the universe that will come to our rescue and give us what we think we want; we may call this “luck” or “fate” or “chance.” Whatever it is, it depends on the random event that falls our way and that just maybe will change our lives for the better.
Neither of these meanings fits with Paul’s intention…For Paul, “hope” is more like “trust.” The ground for hope is neither the last resort nor random chance. The ground is God…
Because God is the guarantor of whatever is promised, the believer may live with complete confidence. What God has said is what will be.[iii]
Paul imagines the church living in harmony so that together, in one voice, we may glorify God. And how do we start? We start by welcoming one another as God has welcomed us. We imitate God by giving hospitality to the “other.” There is no longer insider or outsider. There are no longer hosts and guests. We are all hosts. We are all guests.
Professor Campbell goes on to say:
From the time we are old enough to be in school, we know all too well the patterns of forming “in-groups” and “outcasts.” There are people who are cool and those who are not; there are those who get power and influence because of good looks or athletic prowess; there are those who grab power by being bullies. We learn this as children, and we can see the effects of this behavior in almost every aspect of adult life—in business, education, politics, and even the church.
Paul calls Christians to another way of living, another way of relating: Welcome one another…God has already welcomed all—and so there is no longer slave or free, Jew or Greek, male and female. We, of course, must translate: no longer rich or poor, black or white or Hispanic or Asian, no longer gay or straight, no longer evangelical or progressive, no longer free-market capitalist or socialist or libertarian. God has welcomed us all…just as we are…into God’s embrace.[iv]
God has welcomed us all…just as we are…into God’s embrace. Through Christ, we see God’s intentions for our lives—as a people of hope and peace and joy and love. When I imagine the future of the children in my life, it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed. I want to reclaim their childhood for them—safe and secure. But life has never been safe and secure. There have always been obstacles to the peace for which I yearn—for me, for you, and for every man, woman, and child who walks the earth. But I dare not give up hope because I believe that out of the stump of Jesse, a branch has sprung forth, Jesus, the Christ, and to that branch I cling. Hope is possible because God controls the future and God has given us a glimpse of that future through a helpless babe born in Bethlehem. Thanks be to God. Amen!
[i] Feasting on the Word, Noel Leo Erskine
[ii] Ibid, Stacey Simpson Duke
[iii] Ibid, Cynthia M. Campbell
*Cover Image: StushieArt, used by subscription