Second Sunday of Advent
December 8, 2019
Texts: Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your Son. Amen.
Sometimes when Jason is cooking, he’ll ask me to stir things. Most often he’s frying vegetables and spices mixed with olive oil at the bottom of a pot or frying pan. It’s my job to stir the vegetables and spices so they don’t get burned.
Sometimes he has me make a hole in the middle of the vegetables. Then he’ll pour more vegetables, or spices, or soybean paste or any number of other spices and pastes known only to him into the center. After the new items have a chance to get heated, then I stir them into the rest of the mixture so that all the flavors blend together.
We come again in the church year to the “stirring” prayers of Advent. The Prayer of the Day for each of the four Sundays of Advent,and for each of the three years of the Lectionary cycle, that’s 12 prayers, all begin with … “Stir up”
Stir up your power … stir up our hearts …stir up our wills.
All this stirring is for the sake of Christ to enter our lives, our congregation, our world, in new ways. Maybe visually, we might imagine this as stirring off to the side of our lives all that is secondary in order to create space for Christ right in the center of our lives. There in center place, we welcome Christ to come and save us from our sins, lead us in repentance and in Christ’s ways, and into eager reception of Christ’s promises.
Stir up … O God …
There’s another pray in which we pray … stir up. It’s the prayer we pray over those who Affirm their Baptisms. We pray it annually at the Easter Vigil, we pray it over new members as they join the congregation, and we pray it over those who are confirmed.
In the prayer, we pray this … We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in your people the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.
We also pray this prayer over the newly baptized, although instead of praying “stir up” we pray “sustain”
What’s remarkable about these prayers used in baptism and Affirmation of Baptism, is that they come from Isaiah 11:2-3, our 1st Reading this morning. This prayer is not a string of random words that appear arbitrarily out of thin air. Rather, this prayer is a profound and audacious prayer of faith in which, filled with the Holy Spirit, we pray that we are joined to the prophecy of Isaiah as we are joined to the work of Christ in the world!
The 11th Chapter of Isaiah announces a shoot and branch shall grow out of the stump and root of Jesse. As Christians, when we read this prophecy of Isaiah, we see Christ, we claim Christ as the shoot coming forth from the royal bloodline of Jesse and David. It is Christ filled with wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
In the prayer at baptism, from this prophecy of Isaiah, we are praying that the Holy Spirit would stir us up with Christ in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy! We are praying that our lives, our actions, our words, all that we are, would be joined to the shoot rising from the stump of Jesse – joined to Christ.
Stirred up and joined to Christ, we would:
- be filled with the same wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of God and delight in God’s presence.
- not judge by what our eyes see or decided by what our ears hear; that we would judge the poor with righteousness and decide with equity for the meek; that we would speak the word of God and that our speech would be the rod that kills the wicked
- be joined to Christ we in all that we do, all that we say, all that we are, would build the time when … the wolf shall live with the lamb … the leopard lie down with the kid … the cow and bear shall graze … the lion eat straw like the ox … the nursing child over the hole of the snake … A time when: there will be no more hurt or destruction on God’s holy mountain …
A time when 700,000 poor do not have their SNAP benefits seized from them … time when the meek are not denigrated as partisan, unfaithful, and disloyal … a time when those in power do not use power viciously and savagely to devour to the immigrant, the foreigner, and the stranger … a time when all are fed abundantly, when the meek are honored for their steady/faithful/loyal work, and when power is used for understanding/wisdom/and justice.
Friends in Christ, we the baptized, we who have been prayed over to receive the Holy Spirit, we are called to this work of Christ! The stirring prayers of baptism and Advent stir us from our lethargy, and laziness, and indifference, and stir us into this prophecy. Stirred up in the spirit on this Second Sunday of Advent, we are stirred into repentance, stirred into turning, stirred away from behaviors contrary to this image of Isaiah and this work of Christ.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” we hear from John on this day.
These words are not just for the brood of vipers in John’s day, they are for us, brood of vipers that we are. With our hearts stirred up, we are called to repent of the ways we are the wolves, leopards, bears that devour and feed upon the poor, the meek and the innocent. With our hearts stirred up, we are called to repent of the ways we sow disinformation and misunderstanding, suspicion and gossip. With our hearts stirred up, we are called to repent of the ways we oppose Isaiah’s prophecy of a time of peace, and mercy, and justice.
I also think, we are called to repent of the ways we don’t like to be stirred. It’s not easy to be stirred. It can be uncomfortable, inconvenient and even painful.
This past week, there were two articles written, independently of one another,that both focused on a danger when we try to calm the waters that are being stirred. The authors, [Jeremy Young writing in The Washington Post and Michael Harriot in The Root] both pointed to the U.S. Presidential election of 1876, called by some the most contentious and controversial of all presidential elections.
In a deal known as the Compromise of 1877, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, in return for electoral votes from Southern Democrats, agreed to pull Federal troops out of the South. In a principle referred to as “Home Rule” by President Hayes, but which would lead to segregationist policies known as Jim Crow for generations, President Hayes allowed the South to decide for itself how to deal with its African American population.
Stressing unity over justice, with the country seemingly already stirred up too much in controversy and hoping to calm the civic waters, the President sacrificed the rights, progress, and dignity of African Americans in the South. Both authors point out his decision was just another event in a long line of events where, for the sake of unity, concessions were made by Northerners to Southerners on issues of slavery.
In the decades that followed President Hays’s decision, white civil war veterans from both the north and south joined together in shared celebrations of Civil War sacrifice, obscuring the fact that slavery caused the war.
“How complete the Union has become!” Woodrow Wilson declared at a veterans reunion in 1913 (which Young pointed out in his article), “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades … the quarrel forgotten.”
What was forgotten, ignored, and abandoned, in the appeal for national unity, were the lives of millions of African Americans who would be segregated, oppressed, and denied access to the wealth of the country while countless others were lynched by angry mobs. At the expense of people of color, unity joined racism as a wolf, a leopard, a snake devouring black people.
As Christians, joined by the Holy Spirit to the work of Jesus Christ, we do not, as Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out, work for a peace that is the absence of conflict, where the lamb lies down in fear and terror and subservience to the wolf, aware that at any moment the wolf could change his mind and the lamb would be devoured.
Instead, we are stirred up to enact the peace of Christ that is the presence of justice and understanding, where the lamb lies down in trust and safety, where the wolf and the lamb are mutually known to one another, where the wolf welcomes, celebrates, honors, respects, and cherishes the lamb.
As Christians, as followers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit stirs us up out of our comforts. The Holy Spirit stirs us out of our certainties and paradigms. The Holy Spirit stirs our hearts into compassion and fervor that is love, advocacy, and justice for those who are hated, marginalized, and oppressed so that Christ’s true peace will reign.
The Good News today, is that the kingdom of heaven has come near!
In water and word, in bread and cup, here the kingdom is stirring us into faith in the promises of Christ and that we would be the promise of Christ’s forgiveness, healing, and mercy for the world! Amidst this stirring, we have the confident and steady faith that as Christ is it he stirring, so is healing, peace, and understanding.
Indeed, may the Holy Spirit stir us up with wisdom and understanding,counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord.
May the Holy Spirit stir us up into joy and delight in the liberating work of God for all peoples of the world.
May the Holy Spirit stir up our hearts and nurture our growth as people of repentance and peace.
Thanks be to God.