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And a Little Child Shall Lead Them…

December 3, 2016

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When we were hiking in our back yard (Rocky Mountain National Park) last September we came across a small gathering of Rocky Mountain Mule Deer (I don’t think that four or five qualifies as a herd). Three bucks of various ages (according to the size of their antlers) and a couple of does like this one peeking out from behind the rock were grazing when we stopped to take their pictures. This one seemed to be playing hide and seek and brought a smile to my face.

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This young fellow on the other hand, seemed to be telling me something slightly different! Hey, as long as he isn’t making an editorial comment on my blog writing or preaching it’s all good! Seriously though, I thoroughly enjoy spending time in Rocky hiking and simply spending time in God’s wondrous creation that is literally our back yard! I wish I had a picture of the neighborhood Bull Elk who was grazing right outside of our front door Thanksgiving weekend. It gave my son Alec quite a start when I called him to look out the door!

Okay Padre, you’ve waxed eloquently before about your four-legged neighbors and the place where you live. What does this have to do with the Second Sunday of Advent? Well, for one thing, the doe actually will be on the cover of the worship bulletin this Sunday along with the following message: “The Second Sunday of Advent’s theme is “Peace”. We light the candle of Peace and the reading from Isaiah is about the peaceable kingdom (and a little child shall lead them). This picture reminds me of the peace which only God can give. All I have to do is look up to the mountains and I find that sense of peace. This deer peeking around the rock also brings a sense of peace to my heart each time I look at it and remember.” On a side note, I wonder what the feedback would be from the second picture if I put it on the worship bulletin cover!

Sunday’s readings are a mixture of comfort and challenge. Let’s face it, anytime John the Baptist shows up on the scene you get more discomfort and challenge than you do comfort and challenge. His voice was not typically the calm voice of reason. It was more often than not the loud voice calling the people to repent and turn to God. John was a prophet, like Isaiah before him, who called out the people for their waywardness and missing the point of what it meant to be God’s children.

Isn’t it interesting that Matthew would choose the words of Isaiah 40:3 to state what John the Baptist was about to do? “This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” (Matthew 3:3) Well, John was crying out in the wilderness and preparing the way for the Lord. And John wasn’t exactly being subtle about it either! The time had come for the voice of the prophet to speak loudly to the people. It had been, according to tradition, about 500 years since the voice of the prophet had been heard in the land. From all appearances, the voice needed to be heard not only by the people in bondage to Rome, but also by the Religious and Political Elite (dare I say the 1%?) who had forgotten what it meant to follow God’s command.

That command was to care for the widows and orphans… to care for the strangers and aliens in the land… to love God with every fiber of your being… to love your neighbors (all of them!)…. That command was to, in the words of Micah the Prophet, do justice… love mercy… walk humbly with God! Yes, the voice of the prophet was back and John was getting the attention not only of the oppressed but also of the oppressor. His words for the oppressors weren’t exactly wrapped in a cloak of niceness. He called the Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers for heaven’s sake!

Contemplating the state of the world and our country today, I wonder what John the Baptist would say if he came preaching once more. In a time where an entire segment of leadership believes that facts aren’t important and lies/misinformation is what the people need to hear and believe; we need John to speak! In a time when the immigrants and minorities (religious, ethnic, racial, gender, sexual orientation) live in fear for their very lives and existence, and too many of the so-called religious class spout hate in the name of religion (and the Gospel); we need to be made uncomfortable by John’s words. We need to be made uncomfortable by the very words of Jesus himself… you mean we have to love our ENEMIES and pray for those who PERSECUTE us?! You mean we have to share with those in need?!

Yes, dear reader, in a time when a candidate (now president elect) would encourage crowds to beat up peaceful protesters and says he will throw people in prison (and strip them of citizenship) for exercising their constitutional right to free speech, we need to hear the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!” As hate-crimes from the bottom-dwellers who believe this country should be white and christian (yes, lower case is definitely intentional) just like them increase, a voice needs to cry out!

So what does one do when they are surrounded by hate and fear? Do we give up and hide away from the rest of the world? It isn’t that easy. The world knocks on your door every time you open up your computer, tablet, or smart phone. We are forced to face it each and every day. And this Padre admits to times when he is completely overwhelmed by fear, hopelessness, and depression!

When it comes to that I have to dig deeply into well of my own faith, and the faith of those who have gone before me, and seek the hope that only God can give. My hope does not come from a political party or movement. My hope does not come from a political or military leader (we will always be disappointed). Where does my hope come from? It comes from the one whom Isaiah foretold. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isaiah 11:1)

Let’s look at that analogy a bit closer. When a tree is cut down (for whatever reason, good or bad) all that is left is a stump. In the biblical context, Jesse was the father of King David who united the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. What happened to that combined kingdom? Well, at first they split in two again (Judah and Israel). Then both kingdoms were sent into exile and their lands were ruined. The mighty united Kingdom of Israel and Judah would never again be seen. All that was left of that once mighty kingdom was a stump.

In my own experience, even when the stump of the tree that was cut down is ground up, something happens. Out of the hole where the tree had been arises shoots. These shoots come from the remnants of the once mighty tree. If these shoots are nourished they can grow into another tree. If they are not nourished, they can wither and die. Out of the stump of Jesse would rise a new branch. That branch was the Messiah. The Messiah was the one who would save the people from themselves!

As I look around and see what is going on in the world and in this nation, I do see hope. I see Christ followers and others who are quietly standing on the side of the oppressed. I see places of safety and sanctuary being created where people are not judged by the color of their skin or their religious or ethnic background. I see places where people of all gender identities feel safe. These places are places of sanctuary and safety. They are places where, in the end, Love Wins!

In these pockets I see what Isaiah envisioned long ago. “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9)

Dear reader, are you willing to be a voice for the oppressed? Are you willing to provide a safe place, a sanctuary, for those in need? Are you willing to be a voice of non-violent protest in a world gone mad? Will you stand with your sisters and brothers? God knows we need to be that voice and that presence in this time of madness!

2 Comments
  1. Well said, Michael! I can truly relate to your words, especially these:

    “When it comes to that I have to dig deeply into well of my own faith, and the faith of those who have gone before me, and seek the hope that only God can give. My hope does not come from a political party or movement. My hope does not come from a political or military leader (we will always be disappointed). Where does my hope come from? It comes from the one whom Isaiah foretold. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isaiah 11:1)”

    Thank you for stirring our faith and reminding us where our true Hope comes from. 😊

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