Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 8 December 2019.
• Old Testament: Isaiah 11: 1-10 (The Messianic promise – a shoot from the stem of Jesse)
• Epistle: Romans 15: 4-13 (The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the gentiles)
• Gospel: Matthew 3: 1-12 (John the Baptist: ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’)
They say that life imitates art – or is it the other way around? But today’s lessons are a definite throwback for today’s current affairs.
As we have noted our politicians’ competing manifestoes, we have also approached them with varying degrees of belief, suspended disbelief and downright cynicism.
By the end of the week a set of promises will have been adopted by the electorate, maybe a single set of undertakings or a combination of them.
It will of course be for you to endorse one set of promises, possibly with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I can only assume that everyone will vote, even if it is to cast a spoiled ballot for we enjoy our democracy at the cost of the blood of many of our countrymen.
But then in the lessons there is another picture which starts in Isaiah with the image of a tree stump. The cut down and wholly reduced stump of the line of Jesse and of King David would yet yield to new growth.
A tree stump would produce a new shoot and that which people had long lost hope for would indeed come to fruit. The thing that seemed to beyond hope would offer a new vision of a new kind of kingdom.
This one is not about intrigue or manoeuvring, cunning strategy or manipulation of the public media. This is not an exercise in persuading people of the wholly unconvincing – it is about wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
It is about right judgment in setting priorities and organizing the resources to meet them. It is about not promising what cannot be achieved with resources that may not be found.
He would judge the poor with righteousness but not partiality, and enemies would be reconciled in and with the love and the glory of God. The question of the nuclear button would not arise and massed armed forces would be irrelevant.
If you would like to think this one through, just imagine what the world would be like if everyone obeyed the 10 commandments.
But then there is John the Baptist whose message of ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’ was always going to be profoundly disturbing.
It would challenge all people to be ready to welcome the Messiah, so let all turn away from self-centered and rebellions life-styles and prepare for Him.
Let the rulers start to rule with the judgment of King David, let their counsellors act for the benefit of the land and the people as a whole rather than their own sectional interest.
Let those who trade give fair value in their dealings, and let those who labour give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.
Let those with plenty give generously to those in need and let all live in a new kind of harmony and forbearance with their own kith and kin, for this is what the nation of Israel was.
When they were doing this then the coming anointed one would not be a threat but a blessing to all, for He would heal and reconcile those with broken hearts without spreading condemnation.
Of course all this was going to mean letting go, especially of self with its demands and appetites and resentments. People would no longer be defined by the injuries and sorrows of the past.
And all of this would be before the Anointed One had even begun to address the sickness of the human heart and its rebellion against God.
Writing to the church in Rome, Paul also saw the promises of God to the patriarchs of Israel as a blessing to the nations and not a defiance of them.
He saw the rule of the Messiah as yielding a glory that Rome, with all its buildings and legions and blood-soaked games could not even imagine.
It was a rule without guile or dissembling, and it would be something that the nations of the world would seek after and eagerly desire.
Their leaders would seek after the counsel of God in the administration of justice in all spheres of life.
In this sense I have wondered what ‘The earth is the Lord’s’ would mean in terms of the use and ownership of land. How trade and exchange based on rules made in Jerusalem, and probably based on currency issued there, would look like.
To say that the ‘Kingdom of God is at hand’ may well change all our organs of public and social organization, but it would start with the human heart, healed of anger and resentment, and renewed with forgiveness.
It would be founded on motivations and loyalties purified in the sight of God, and relationships and transactions made holy in all respects.
But all of this starts with the human soul, renewed and forgiven personally by the person of Jesus Christ. And here, to quote a politician now no longer with us, ‘There is no alternative.’