Mike Brown

December 8, 2019

     Isaiah 11:1-10
     Psalm 85: 8-13
     Romans 15: 4-13
     Matthew 3:1-12

We are in the Second Sunday of Advent.  Advent is all about watching and waiting; imagining and dreaming.  The colors for Advent are purple or deep blue.  For some these colors reflects the color of the autumn's night lit by moon and stars.  The days are short, and the nights are long.  The moon is called traditionally Cold Moon.  The Old English/Anglo-Saxon name is the Moon Before Yule.

These long nights are fertile ground for dreaming and imagining the advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love.  Last Sunday, Ann Barnet taught about Hope with its emphasis of keeping awake and living in expectation.  Next week we explore the theme of Joy with Marcia.  This Sunday, the theme is Peace with its dream of harmony as a Peaceable Kingdom.

In today's scripture reading, Isaiah announces the coming of the Prince of Peace to the Hebrew people:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse...  The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge.... He shall judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.          (NRIV). 

Paul in the epistle reading today extends this branch of Jesse to include both Christians and Gentiles.  Paul prays for the Romans: God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us,... 

May our....  Warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all.  Then will be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father our Master Jesus!   

The psalmist writes in the Spanish version of Psalm 85: Truth and mercy have met together; peace and justice have kissed.  (Message).  The Gospel by Matthew talks about John the Baptist thundering in the desert about this fire that will ignite the kingdom life and role of Jesus to make a clean sweep of your lives...  into the proper place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash....  (Message).

Today's scriptures announce the Good News of the coming of God's Kingdom or Reign.  We remember this coming each Sunday as we say the Lord's Prayer asking God in the words “thy Kingdom to come on Earth as it is heaven.”  Peace is, I think, much like God's Kingdom; it is right here but not yet.  Our human language does not have a way to express now and not yet for both heaven and peace.

Peace is as undefinable as God's kingdom/Reign on Earth.  Wikipedia makes an attempt to defines peace as a concept of societal friendship and harmony in the absence of hostility and violence.  In a social sense, peace is commonly used to mean a lack of conflict (such as war) and freedom from fear of violence between individuals and/or groups.  That definition is mostly what peace is not.  The psalmist in Psalm 85 give a much fuller and richer description with the two lines: “Truth and mercy have met together; peace and justice have kissed.”  If we take peace to be the locus and focus of this verse, you can construct the view of Peace as a space, place, or location of encountering the mostly messy mix of Truth, Mercy, and Justice.

With Peace according to John Paul Lederach, founder of the Center for Justice and Peocebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, comes the images of harmony, unity, well-being, security, respect etc.  This list is very similar to modern psychologist Abraham Maslow's Human Needs Hierarchy.  Peace is a place where there is a feeling and prevalence of respect for the members of the group.  Peace is not just for a few but for the many.  In fact, Peace only works if all are included.  The streams of Truth, Mercy, and Justice flow into the place of Peace to give life to this depth of this Peace.  A location were deserts can blossom.

  • With Truth, "we see each other as we are" -- honesty, revelation, clarity, open accountability, and vulnerability.  Without Truth, Peace will never be able to come.  However, Truth alone leaves us naked, vulnerable, and unworthy.
  • With Justice, there comes the powerful image of making things right, creating equal opportunity, rectifying the wrong, and restitution.  Without Justice, the brokenness continues and festers.
  • With Mercy, there is the hope of compassion, forgiveness, acceptance and a new start.  Mercy is about receiving and receiving God's grace.  Without Mercy, healthy relationships would not be possible.  Without compassion and forgiveness, healing and restoration would be out of the questions.  Yet, with Mercy alone Peace can be superficial and sometimes cover up the problem by moving too quickly.

The streams of Truth, Justice, and Mercy feed into and nourish this Peace.  With these streams, Peace has the space and energy to encourage, strengthen, and protect “life in all of it fullness” (John 10:10).  A place where the desert blossoms and Mother and child are sheltered.  In contemporary terms peace can be a paradoxical place of messiness that give rise to interdependence, well-being, and security.  Truth can contribute to for the longing for acknowledgement of wrong, and the validation of painful loss and experiences.  Mercy can contribute with an articulation of for acceptance, letting go, and a new beginning.  Justice can contribute in the search for individual and groups’ needs & rights, for social restructuring.

True Peace is resilience in both the good times and the bad times — in the darkness and the light.  Richard Rohr captures this resilience with his thoughts on Christian wisdom, which names the darkness as darkness and the Light as light and helps us learn how to live and work in the Light so that the darkness does not overcome us.  If we have a pie-in-the-sky, everything-is-beautiful attitude, we are going to be trapped by the darkness because we don't see clearly enough to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Conversely, if we can only see the darkness and forget the more foundational Light, we will be destroyed by our own negativity and fanaticism, or we will naively think we are completely apart and above the darkness.  Instead, we must wait and work with hope inside of the darkness, even our own—while never doubting the light that God always is, and that we are, too (Matthew 14).  That is the narrow birth canal (also known as the Narrow Gate) of God into the world —through the darkness and into an ever-greater Light.  It seems we must all let go of our false innocence to find...God....  (Mark 10:18).

In our Isaiah text today, it is curious that that text presents a very innocent metaphorical view of God's Peaceable Kingdom where

The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler will stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain....

This vision has caught the imagination of many writers and artist over the years and has been the subject of many idealist paintings and drawings.  We often show these pictures to our children as what the world might be.  Although it is possible that wolves, leopards, lions, bears, oxen, cubs, poison snakes, lambs, kids, cows, calves might somehow get together and be briefly non-violent, it is unlikely to last long.  It is very unlikely that humans, especially in the forms of infants, toddlers, and children, would survive long anywhere near most of these animals.  It does not make any sense at all to think that children would tend these animals, that lions will eat hay, and that children will play with snakes.

How we shall take this vision?  Is God out to lunch, telling a nice story, or is God speaking to us in a deeper place beyond reason?  After all, Peace, like Heaven, may be beyond all understanding.  It is just possible that God is saying: Use your Moral Imagination; respond with your whole self not just your intellect.  Call is always about more than you can possible do alone.  How might you use Truth, Justice, and Mercy to be a peacebuilder in our world?  This might be an important calling for all of us; remembering that We are not all Saints.  This, though, is comforting for those of us who have a hard time getting started and even a harder time keeping going in building peace.  As a peacebuilder you are often a bridge, and both sides seem to take turns and even enjoy walking on you.  The life of Jesus might be a help here in his efforts visioning the dream of God in a world filled with violence and animosity.  In other words, it is hard to soar like eagles amidst a bunch of earthbound turkeys.

However, Jesus did live in an occupied country where his religious leaders were very threated by his view of a loving and just God — so much so that they orchestrated his torture and execution.  However, Jesus lived his life with both courage and calculation.  Jesus cultivated the wisdom of the "dove" contending with and displacing the ways of the "serpent."  Some call this serpent an evil shape-shifter that adapts to the situation wherever there is good.  Evil is the narrative of the lie.  Satan in Hebrew means "the one who accuses falsely" and in Greek (Diabolos) means "the confuser."  Handling evil well in its many forms is not easily for us even on a very good day.  Nevertheless, becoming expert serpent handlers is what it takes to be a follower of Jesus.

Let's consider ourselves as Saints-In-Training.  We are both Saints now and not yet.  As we go out into our day, let us ponder our future sainthood with the verse “Truth and mercy have met together; peace and justice have kissed.”  Also, remember what the Hill Street Blues station Sargent says -- “Hey, Be careful out there, it is a jungle.”

The world can be a seen as a jungle and it can also be seen as a peaceable kingdom, at least in our moral imagination.  As we end these thoughts, also remember that Jesus says “fear not.”  In the meantime, Pax, Shalom, Salaam.............until we hear about Joy next week.


This teaching drew from the following resources very liberally:
Hills Street Blues in TV Series in 1980’s.
Imaging the Word, An Art and Lectionary Resource Vol B Susan Blaine, ed.  (1995).
Mediation and Facilitation Training Manual by Mennonite Conciliation Service; pp 37-38 (2000)
Moral Imagination by John Paul Lederach (2005).
Not All of Us Are Saints by David Hilfiker (1994)
Peace in Wikipedia at (downloaded 12/04/2019).
Psalms for Praying by Nan Merrill (2007).
Waiting in Darkness in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations; by Richard Rohr & Center for Action & Contemplation; (downloaded 12/07/2020).