What are your dream packages under the tree this Christmas? How about Two huge packages – two gifts, two messages, two dreams. One from Isaiah, one from John: Peace & justice. What if we asked for peace & justice to come under our tree? Not as an individual, but as a people, a community, a state, a nation, a world? Isaiah says when the Messiah comes peace comes. We see the wolf and lamb, the child and the snake living peacefully together. And John says when the Messiah comes justice comes. Trees cut down & thrown into the fire.
The passage from Isaiah, is called ‘the peaceable kingdom.’ Isaiah says there is a messiah- a savior coming. God’s spirit will rest on this messiah, and this messiah will have wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, and knowledge.
In this peaceable kingdom, the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard with the kid, the calf with the lion, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and bear graze together, babies can safely play by snake holes, and there will be no hurt or destruction on God’s world. Everybody lives, and no one needs to devour anyone else in order to do it. It’s the perfect picture of peace.
Today, our second Advent candle symbolizes ‘peace.’ Peace is a word that we hear a lot during the Holiday season, especially in the church. We know that we are anticipating the birth of the one called the Prince of Peace. When the angels herald Christ’s birth, they sing of peace for all of the world. Our Christmas cards contain messages of peace. Our carols talk about bringing peace on earth.
In Matthew, on the other hand, from John the Baptist, we get vipers, axes and fire. The gift of justice. “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees,” John says, “every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [The messiah’s] winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and . . . the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
John talks about justice – finally everybody getting what they deserve.
Dr. Martin Luther King talks about justice and work. “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Jesus didn’t come breathing fire, even though both the OT and Gospel readings this week might lead us to expect that. Isaiah says about the one raised up from the stump of Jesse, “He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (11:4b), and John the Baptist concurs: “The chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:11). But never in his ministry does Jesus burn anything. He does get angry: he calls the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27), looking good on the outside but full of death, and he accuses those entrusted with the temple of turning it into a den of thieves. Yet he does not send anyone up in smoke.
He does not breathe fire on anyone. He does not lay waste. He seeks out sinners; he touches and heals sick people; he eats with both Pharisees and tax collectors. He is himself a lamb lying down in the midst of wolves.
Should he have been more careful? Would the fire have been better than the towel and the basin, better than the bread and the cup? With his life and death, Jesus gave us a window on the peaceable kingdom. As he lived it, that kingdom was not a place without conflict or even a place without large animals having sharp teeth and evil intent. Even so, he lived the peace Isaiah dreamed of, and after those large animals had done their best to devour him, God said, “No. Everybody lives, and no one has to devour anyone else in order to do it.”
Often the term bring to justice brings to mind the punishment of a wrong-doer, to give bad-guys what they deserves. But God’s justice is not like our justice, we must remind ourselves. Justice has another, less-emphasized purpose – to bring justice to those who have been treated unjustly, to give the good ones what they deserve but have not gotten.
Isaiah writes, “God will not 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. He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his wais, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.” The Messiah comes to bring peace by bringing justice to the world. – the justice that brings grace to people who have been shut-out, unwanted, unloved, and unsafe. Peace, with justice.
If you’ve been getting paid low wages, and you finally earn enough to make a living wage, you’re finally getting what you deserve – you’re getting justice. Jesus talked about the humble being exalted and the last being first in God’s kingdom, and he spoke always as an advocate for the poor and to challenge the rich. “Reconciliation should be accompanied by justice, otherwise it will not last. While we all hope for peace it shouldn’t be peace at any cost but peace based on principle, on justice” — Corazon C. Aquino
John wanted justice. Isaiah wanted peace. Jesus brings both.
Jesus, the messiah who wasn’t what anyone expected, who was more than anyone expected, brings peace and justice. Justice and peace can only thrive together, never apart. — Oscar Arias Sanchez
Peace. Wouldn’t it be nice if there wasn’t any killing going on right now in Afghanistan? Wouldn’t that be nice?
Justice. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were no such thing as police brutality, illegal property seizure, illegal detention?
Peace. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Arabs and the Jews in Israel & Palestine would miraculously started to live together in peace? Wouldn’t that be nice?
Justice. Wouldn’t it be nice if those in authority were people of integrity and honor? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were no death squads in Columbia and people weren’t shooting each other? Wouldn’t that be nice?
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were peace on earth? No illegal detention, or sex trafficking or slavery. No child abuse or neglect.
Or, if you can’t have peace between nations, wouldn’t it be nice to have peace within our families? Wouldn’t that be nice?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a whole week together as husband and wife and not have a fuss or fight? Wouldn’t that be nice?
Wouldn’t it be nice if your children did not fight with each other?
Wouldn’t it be nice to go on a family vacation and not have any blow-ups?
Wouldn’t it be nice if tempers didn’t flare so quickly?
If you can’t have peace in Afghanistan, maybe we could have peace at home and in our families. That would be nice.
Or, if that isn’t possible, wouldn’t it be nice to have peace within myself?
Wouldn’t it be nice if I weren’t so harsh with myself?
Wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t explode at myself in anger?
Wouldn’t it be nice if my guts were calm?
Wouldn’t it be nice if I could sit around all night and not have a compulsion to eat ice cream or drink wine or beer in order to calm my nervous stomach? Wouldn’t that be nice?
If I can’t have peace between nations or peace within the family,
maybe I could at least have some peace within me?
This morning of the 2nd Sunday of Advent, we thank God for that baby born just over 2000 years ago, whose birth brought God’s presence into this world.
But we are doing more than thanking God, we are asking for that baby to be born again this Christmas 2010, And we are asking God to do it again next year, and the next, and the next.
As Christmas approaches, God gives us more than we could have ever expected. Not a God above us; not a God below us; not a God beside us; but God AMONG us, a God WITH us, a God WITHIN us. God as one of us, bringing two big amazing, life-giving and life-changing packages: peace and justice. As Dwight Eisenhower put it: “I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”
Thanks to exegesis and inspiration from Mary Hinkle Shore, Pilgrim Preaching and Visions of Peace by Kate Huey.