The church I visited today went off the lectionary and read Isaiah 11:1-12 and Matthew 3:1-12. I think I may have heard the passages differently than did the pastor.
Isaiah 11 is a beautiful passage that speaks about the coming of the Son of David (i.e. stump from the root of Jesse) who will rule in perfect wisdom and justice. He will deliver the poor from the their oppressors and bring the exiles home from the distant lands to which they’ve been scattered. His reign will see a return to the idyllic world of Eden. Even the beasts of the field will live in peace with each other, and nothing will threaten God’s people any more.
In the midst of this beautiful passage, Isaiah offers us this:
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
The coming king will slay the wicked. For the oppressed and the victimized of Israel, this is part of the good news proclaimed by Isaiah: their tormentors can no longer rob them of life, liberty or property. Salvation for some, however, brings death for others.
In Matthew 3, John the Baptist announces the coming of the kingdom foreseen by Isaiah. John doesn’t describe the blessings of the kingdom; he simply calls for people to repent.
John’s message is a warning.
The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Matthew 3:10, 12
The preparation for which John calls isn’t spiritual navel gazing. He’s not asking us to find inner peace or true happiness. He’s not inviting us make small adjustments in the way we live. He’s telling us, rather, that God’s long-awaited kingdom is finally at hand. It’s coming will bring salvation for some; it will bring destruction for others.
A disaster is coming our way and we’re headed straight into it. John’s message is the same as the one posted on a flooded highway: turn around, don’t drown.
Lives are at stake. I enjoy a positive, peaceful, contemplative Advent as much as the next person. But if we were to listen honestly to John and the prophets, perhaps what we should really be doing is taking to the streets and sounding the alarm.
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Continued at: Advent’s News of My Death