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The Peaceable Kingdom – An Advent Reflection

December 3, 2022
These beautiful clouds are a bit deceptive. We didn’t exactly turn around during the flight from Charlotte, NC to Minneapolis, MN when we went to visit my dad, but we were re-routed from Minneapolis to Milwaukee, WI thanks to a snowstorm which closed the runways for a few hours!

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. (Isaiah 11:1) With those words, the reading from Isaiah 11:1-10 for the Second Sunday of Advent begin a story. It is a story of hope, of redemption, and of peace. On this Sunday our congregation will light the candle of peace on the Advent wreath. The closing prayer for the candle lighting liturgy says the following: Faithful God, you are at work to restore all of creation in its intended harmony. Give us your shalom that we may be reconciled to all enemies in the peace that passes all understanding through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Give us your Shalom that we may be reconciled to all enemies. Wow, that is a powerful prayer request. It is especially powerful when you put it into the context of the reading from Isaiah. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears here; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth… (Isaiah 11:3-4a) The kingdom described is unlike any other kingdom that I have studied. 

Isaiah continues to describe this vision in the following verses: 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. (11:6-9)

I don’t know about you, but the sort of place that Isaiah describes in his vision brings comfort and hope to me. You see, right now we don’t live in a world where judgment is decided with equity. And we certainly aren’t living in a place or a time where there will be no hurt or destruction because the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord. So, how do we get to that holy mountain where shalom isn’t a word but rather a way of living and believing. That is where we come to the gospel reading from Matthew for this Second Sunday of Advent. In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:1-2)

Repent… to turn around. The Greek word for repent is metanoeó (μετανοέω) which means to change one’s mind or purpose for living. You might go so far as to describe metanoeó as turning around one’s life. John the Baptist was calling for the people to turn their lives around. He wasn’t afraid to offer the same challenge to the religious authorities who were in cahoots with the Empire at the expense of the people they had been called and commissioned to serve. Instead of leading the people of God and speaking out on their behalf, they were busy lining their pockets with money and living the high life with callous disregard for the people they were supposed to serve.

So, what does this mean for us today and how are we to respond to the challenge of John the Baptist and bear fruit worthy of repentance. (vs.8) What does this mean for us today as we work to establish the kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer? How do we work with God to bring about the peaceable kingdom which Isaiah describes? The prophet Micah offered an answer to doing this sort of kingdom building work. He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8)

The season of Advent invites us to re-examine our lives and how we live out our faith on a day-to-day basis. In his book The Mood of Christmas, Howard Thurman described how such a change can occur. He (Jesus) knew that love was the most completely persistent quality of which the human spirit is capable, because for its sake and under its aegis (humankind) will gladly do what no power in heaven or hell could make them do without love.  (p. 7)

Love, the deep Agapé love which Paul describes in I Corinthians 13, is what brings about the repentance John the Baptist called for and the peaceable kingdom that Isaiah described. My friends, it is only with such love which the Spirit can equip us to share that we can do the work of building the kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven. I believe that is the invitation that is being offered on this Second Sunday of Advent.

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