Saturday, December 28, 2013

Shattered Expectations (Isaiah 11:1-10)

     To understand the magnitude and impact of our scripture reading this morning, we need to understand some of the historical background of what is taking place.  In the history of God’s people—the Israelites, they became a powerful and advance nation . . . the envy of other nations. And, they then got a little too big for their britches . . . they started sliding backwards in the things that had helped to make them powerful . . . they started ignoring God’s will . . . ignoring their relationship with God and one another . . . they stopped doing the little things that made them who they were as God’s people.  Yes, they were warned . . . over and over again the prophets that God sent were ignored.  You can only ignore God so long before consequences begin to happen . . . and, they did . . . it all hit the fan.

     A neighboring nation—Babylon—attacked and conquered them.  Well, that is probably putting it mildly . . . Babylon came and stomped them silly.  The invading armies destroyed the symbols of power and wealth . . . destroyed their cities and towns . . . crushed the kingdom, ended the monarchy . . . and, then took the spoils of victory back to their own homeland.  The people were forced to march to Babylon as captives to a strange land and culture . . . not as free people, but as captives with no rights or freedom.  It was the darkest of times for the people of God.  Crushed, their world as they knew it and understood it was gone . . . gone forever.

     These were some depressing times for God’s people—Israel and Judah.  Yet, crushed, they still had a glimmer of hope left in their hearts . . . they still had some expectations, after all, they were God’s children.  It would be what would carry them through the difficult times of captivity in a foreign country.  They hung on . . . 

     Well, any of us who have ever had expectations should know . . . what we expect and what we get are rarely the same.  Often it seems that our expectations are dashed by the reality of what is really there.  It seems that nothing we expect ever comes out to be exactly the way we imagined it would be.  So it was for God’s people in this story . . . what they expected and what they end up getting are two different things.  In the end, their expectations were shattered.

     But, that does not mean you give up hope.

     Isaiah, the prophet who seems to be a thorn in the people’s side before and after the whole mess takes place, speaks words towards their hope.  The only problem is that they are not the sort of words the people want to hear.  The royal line of God’s people came from Jesse . . . a proud and fierce royalty . . . like a mighty oak the line of Jesse had stood for generations . . . and, the people clung to that image of a powerful, mighty royalty that would rise up and restore the kingdom once again.  That was their hope, but Isaiah pointed out to the people, the mighty oak has been cut down and all that is left is a stump.  Yet, out of this stump their salvation would arise and restore the kingdom once again . . . but, not in the way that they expected.

     We hear those words of hope from Isaiah in our reading this morning.  They are the opposite of what the people are expecting . . . there is no mention of great power and military might . . . there is no revenge and war waged upon the oppressors.  There is none of that . . . instead, well instead, it sounds as if this resurrected leader is going to be a wimp . . . a wimp who uses a whole new paradigm to restore the kingdom . . . wisdom, peace, love, justice . . . sounds like some sort of wimpy hippie thing going on.  The people did not want to hear this . . . this was not what they were expecting.

     Jump forward to the time of Jesus . . . he was not what the people were expecting in their time of captivity either.  Not even close.  Jesus was the opposite of what everyone was expecting of the coming Messiah to restore the kingdom.  This was most evident in one of Jesus’ own disciples—Judas.  Judas expected a revolution . . . a revolution filled with violence to restore the kingdom . . . a revolution to rid their homeland of their oppressors.  Judas was always ready to pick up the sword and constantly disappointed in Jesus’ words and methods.  He embodied what many probably felt in their expectations through Jesus . . . this wasn’t quite what the people were expecting.  Jesus was into all those things that are “touchy-feely” . . . things like relationships, peace, love, justice, loving one’s enemies, helping the disadvantaged . . . those wimpy things that Isaiah alluded to generations before when God’s children were in another period of captivity.  In a way, their expectations were shattered too.

     God never seems to deal with any of us in the ways that we expect.  After all of these years, you would thing that we would get that . . . God is a mystery, and is constantly shattering our expectations through the way that God relates to us.  You would thing that we would get used to that . . . but, we don’t.  From the time of Isaiah and the Babylonian Captivity, God has been telling us that the kingdom is coming—actually that the kingdom already is, and it is not going to be anything like we imagined it to be.  It is going to be something completely different from our expectations.

     I think that is where we miss the boat with the Advent season.  Our expectations point to the birth of a Savior Child and all the potential this child offers . . . the hope of a new beginning.  Yet, we forget, the Child has already been born . . . in fact, the Child has lived his life, died a gruesome death on the cross, and been resurrected and is still alive.  As the followers of Jesus we have already passed this way before . . . Advent is to call us to the Kingdom that is and will be.  It calls us to the nurturing of that shoot from the stump of Jesse . . . it calls us towards living what Jesus taught, preached, and lived . . . it is calling us to this new kingdom.  A kingdom of peace, love, justice, grace . . . all that wimpy hippie stuff that we aren’t expecting.  Advent is not a look back to the past, it is a look forward to the future as we attempt to live it in the present moment.  Advent, like the shot off of the stump of Jesse, is a symbol of hope for what could be.

     I would argue that from the time that the children of God go into Babylonian captivity through the Gospels and into the Epistles, that our scriptures are the story of that hope being attempted to lived out by those who follow Jesus.  It hasn’t come yet, but from time to time we have seen small slices of it in the world around us . . . we have seen the hope present in the actions of those around us . . . it is there if we are willing to allow itself to make itself visible and to live it within our lives.  Yet, it means that we have to allow God to shatter our expectations for something unexpected . . . something better, something more beautiful, something filled with grace and love.  Advent calls us to come and experience the unexpected . . . to live the dream of God’s Kingdom.  Amen.

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