December 8, 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-15

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech still resonates nearly 6 decades after it was first given. It tells of a hopeful future where little white girls and boys will be friends with little black girls and boys. It tells of a time where descendants of former slaves and former slave owners will sit together at the table of brotherhood. Even nature will be reconciled as the rough places are made plain, and the crooked places are made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

What a hopeful dream! What a joyful vision of the future! At some level, all of us hope that Martin’s dream comes true. All of us would like to see the high ideals expressed in that dream lived out in our world. We’d like to see the injustices made just. We’d like to see former enemies get along with one another. We’d like everyone to have an equal chance. What a joyful world it would be!  

Our scripture from Isaiah has that same hopeful quality. It paints a picture of a very hopeful future where natural enemies – the wolf and the lamb – lie down together in peace. In Isaiah’s dream, children can be in the company of poisonous snakes and be safe. In that dream, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as the water covers the sea. The root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the people.

Isaiah reminds us of the radical and unexpected way God’s love shows up, a shoot of life coming from a dead stump. New life appears where it seemed there was only death. And he goes on to say, “The nations will seek out this root of Jesse and his dwelling will be glorious.” What a beautiful picture Isaiah paints! What a joyful world it would be!

Advent is a time of preparation. Advent it a time of preparing our hearts for the coming of the Lord. Advent is a time for hopefulness and joy as we prepare to celebrate that root of Jesse, Jesus, come to earth. Advent is a time when we get ready to meet God’s own son in human form, Immanuel, God with us. Advent is a time of anticipating God’s transforming work in the world. Advent is a time of preparing for God’s work in our hearts, and in our lives, and in our common life together.  

In our gospel lesson, that wild man, John the Baptist makes an appearance. He builds on Isaiah’s dream telling people to “Prepare for God’s arrival! Repent! Make the road smooth and straight!” The kingdom of God is at hand.

John calls in the end of the old era, and the beginning of a new one. In this new era, a hopeful future is possible. God has come, sending God’s own son, to make things right. Jesus comes bringing a message of love and salvation. Jesus comes bringing forgiveness and eternal life.

John uses some tough language, calling people a “Brood of snakes!” or in another translation “Brood of Vipers!” which sounds even worse. But his tough language is a form of tough love. He shares Isaiah’s hopeful dream and wants people to be ready for it. He is urging people to turn around, change their ways and get ready for the Holy Spirit to be at work in their lives, cleaning out the yucky stuff, making room for the good.

What do Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Martin Luther King Jr. have in common? They are all prophets of God. God has opened their eyes to God’s own vision for the world the way God wants it to be. The way God dreams it can be. The way God intendeds it will be.

As we prepare for Christmas and sing “Joy to the World,” we know that the world is still not as joyful a place as we would hope it to be and as God wants it to be. But the hope we share at Christmas is that God is at work, bringing his dream for the world to life in the person of his own son, Jesus Christ. God has entered into human history, by becoming one of us. Through his son, Jesus, God is calling into being a new kingdom where hope, peace, love and joy prevail.  

There once was a young boy, who was taking piano lessons. As a way to encourage him, his mother took him to a concert of a great pianist. Shortly after the two were seated in the concert hall, the mother noticed a friend across the hall, and walked over to greet her. The son got tired of sitting there by himself, so he wandered off, to check things out. He eventually made his way through a door marked “No Admittance.”

The lights dimmed in the concert hall, signaling that it was time for people to take their seats, the concert was about to begin. As the mother headed back to her seat, she noticed that her son wasn’t sitting where she had left him. Just then, the stage curtain opened and to her shock, there was her son seated at the keyboard of the Steinway grand piano. The boy began playing a song he was working on for is piano lessons, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

As the boy began to play, the concert pianist took the stage and whispered to the boy “Don’t quit. Keep playing.” Leaning over, the pianist reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Then he reached his right arm around the other side of the boy and added some embellishments on top. Together the old master and the young boy, jammed on that familiar tune, to the delight of the audience.

This great pianist showed love and compassion as he inspired this boy, making beautiful music together. He planted a dream in this child, a dream this boy could aspire to live into. Rather than blaming or shaming him, or making him feel embarrassed, he made this little guy the star of the show! He gave him a taste of what it feels like to have a whole concert hall clapping and cheering for him. He did far more that tickle the ivories, he tickled this boy’s imagination. Do you think that boy was inspired to go home and practice, to live into the dream that this concert pianist planted in his soul? One can only imagine!

God has dreams for us. God has dreams for a hopeful future where people get along with one another, where we live in harmony with nature, where we love one another and love God. God inspires us to dream new dreams. God tickles our imaginations, prompting us to envision far more than we ever thought possible.

Is this not the power of the Advent season? Advent is the time we prepare our hearts to receive God’s gracious gift. It is a time for wonder and amazement, for mystery and transformation. It is a time to dream with eyes-wide-open. God is encouraging, upholding, challenging, renewing, recreating us, that we might dream new dreams and imagine new possibilities. Possibilities of peace, possibilities of compassionate love and service, possibilities of new life. Advent is the time when God’s promise of love and salvation comes to us, in the flesh.

As we live into this Advent season, open your eyes to God at work in and around you. Notice the dream God is inviting you into. Join with God in bringing joy to the world. Join with the world in celebrating that the Lord has come. Join with the earth in receiving its king. Let your heart prepare him room. And as you do, join with God is making great music as heaven and nature sing!

This Advent may God’s hope, peace, love and joy find a home in your heart. May God’s dream come alive in you. May you join with God in bringing joy to the world.