Advent IIA’19
8 December 2019
Isaiah 11.1-10; Romans 15.4-13
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy spirit. Amen.

Growing up in Jonesboro I can remember several winters where there were ice storms. The wintry precip would fall and it would coat the tree limbs, and power lines. We would lose power, due to powerlines breaking and we would lose quite a few trees. Most of the pine trees would bend over with the weight of the ice but the hardwood trees would generally break. Huge limbs would fall on cars, smashing them and giving insurance adjusters lots of work to do. The old oak limbs would fall on houses and crash through rooves.

After the thaw there would be more than a few Saturday morning sleeps interrupted at ungodly hours by the sounds of chain saws cutting up the fallen limbs. After the clean up what was left but a bunch of old tree stumps.

Tree stumps were harder to deal with, some folks would hollow them out and make planters from them, others would attach chains and hitch them up to trucks and pull them out, some would attempt to grind them down so they would be level with the ground, and some bought poison to try and kill it with. The stumps that remained were relics indicating that there once was a living tree there. The point, stumps weren’t good for much, that is unless you were an old testament prophet looking for a good metaphor for the New thing God was planning on doing.

Around my neighborhood I also noticed something that happened to the stumps that were simply left alone – they would sprout! Green spindly, fledgling shoots would sprout from the top of the stump, that would eventually re-grow a new tree! This was a symbol Isaiah could make use of in his prophecy: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”[1]

God’s timing is seldom as quick as we would like it to be, and God’s victories are more of a slow burn, rather than an explosion.  Isaiah’s prophecies were made some 700 years before Christ’s birth. A lot of pieces were going to have to fall into place before they could be fulfilled.

After 700 years the mighty prophet, John the Baptist, like a proverbial ‘Rip Van Winkle’ finally wakes up and appears on the scene to proclaim the message that the New Thing God was going to do was imminent: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  But this New Thing would require Change, real Change.

John encounters the people who stand to lose the most if the change really happened, and he calls them out, when he sees the Pharisees and the Sadducees (the highly religious of the day) he says: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” These were the stakeholders of the ways of the past, the old order where there were two distinct groups of people – the Jews, God’s chosen people, and the Gentiles, those pagans who had not been chosen.

This old order of things was Isaiah’s ‘old stump’ from which a new shoot would emerge, and in this New Order, God, out of many tribes and nations, would make one people. Through the birth, death, and resurrection of his Son, God would make God’s ultimate truth known that there are no longer, Jews or Gentiles and that ALL are One in Christ, ALL are subjects of the Most Hight and children of God – ALL are chosen!

‘Ooops! You just lost me,’ said the Pharisees, ‘we have a good thing going here, and we don’t need to bring in the riff raff, those pagan Gentiles, who eat things that are unclean like pigs, and shrimp, and have no sense of decorum. They can’t possibly be chosen by God.’ God was about to give out to everyone a free ‘get out of jail card,’ and give out free memberships in God’s family, to anyone who was willing to repent, and to accept the gift.

As the revelation that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, took hold in the early Church, St. Paul attempts to put all these pieces together in his letter to the first Christians in Rome that were made up of both Jews, and Gentiles. He does this by quoting some of the prophecies that foretold the new thing God was doing:

          “Therefore, I will confess you among the Gentiles,

          And sing praises to your name.”

         “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

          “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,

           And let ALL the peoples praise him.”

Then he speaks about Isaiah’s old stump – the old thing from which God’s New Thing would emerge:

“The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

God’s plan from the beginning was for there to be One people, with no divisions between the chosen and the unchosen, the clean, and the unclean. For those invested in the old system that divided everyone into separate groups this was not good news, but to the poor, the broken, the low born, the least, and the lost this was extremely Good News – they too were God’s favorites!  There was no group of people God didn’t like!

It is Advent in the Church and it is Advent at St. Luke’s, God is doing a new thing, God wants to bring us hope, and some new people, people that may be a bit different from us, can we prepare our hearts to welcome them as we would Christ, to care for their souls, to nurture them, and allow them a place here?

As one old preacher said, “God wouldn’t place baby chicks under a dead hen.” Another put it this way: “Why would God put baby chicks in a Frigidaire refrigerator? No, God would put baby chicks in an incubator.”

I believe God is calling St. Luke’s to be an incubator, a safe place that fosters an atmosphere of faith, hope and love with whoever is here.    St. Paul’s word to the Romans is a word to us:

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ (King), Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Let it be dear Lord, let it be!

[1] Isaiah 11.1 NRSV