The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 8, 2019
Sometimes life feels like a vicious circle that has us trapped in the “same old, same old”. Sometimes life seems like a repetitive cycle that keeps taking us through one Christmas after another, raising our hopes, but never breaking us out of our stale status quo in the end.
Feelings and appearances don’t always tell us the truth. The Bible always does – and it tells us that God has guaranteed that things are headed to a final, fantastic destination…a day when everything will get, not just better, but just right…when the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth will become one.
The Bible views that future as so surely guaranteed that it refers to it as already having come into existence in the present. After all, with the first coming of King Jesus, the kingdom of heaven invaded the kingdom of earth. And with His ongoing presence in the Spirit, the future, while not yet fully present, is still truly present, and working its wonders here and now – until He comes again in glory and power to see to its complete consummation.
In a real sense then, we who walk with Jesus have started to live His tomorrow today and are gaining capacity to be what Isaiah had prophesied He would be: a “signal” of something utterly new. We His church are to be an earthly outpost of the heavenly kingdom, a community where the King’s peace can be seen and felt.
While they contain a couple of the greatest passages of hope in the Bible, the first ten chapters of Isaiah consist of a steady series of reprimands of God’s people for their wrongdoing. By chapter 11, the beautiful tree that once was Israel has been reduced to no more than a “stump”. Yet, with chapter 11, there arises a triumphant affirmation of good news. From that dead stump, a new and marvelously different life springs forth.
It comes by means of a Person, a descendent of David, who was Jesse’s first son but not his greatest. The greater Son of David will judge with righteousness and faithfulness. He will bring justice to the oppressed and judgment upon the oppressors. He will create peace throughout creation, so that no one will harm or destroy on his “holy mountain”. Why, even the wolf shall dwell in harmony with the lamb, and the baby shall play safely beside the poisonous snake! This Son of David, this Root of Jesse, shall fill the earth with “the knowledge of the Lord” and “stand as a signal” to all people.
What enables this Root of Jesse to do these great things? What is first said about Him in this scripture: The Spirit “rests” on him – giving him “wisdom”, “might”, “fear of” the Lord and “delight in” the Lord.
Now we know who is the Root of Jesse: Jesus the Christ – who caused Satan to fall like lightning from the sky, who took the best shot darkness and death had to give and defeated them, who breathed into His followers the same Spirit by whom He lived, and who made His followers a community that would itself be a signal to all, a present foretaste of the future, today’s outpost of tomorrow.
How can we be all that? Not by resolute intention, diligent self-effort, or fulfillment of our human potential. But by giving ourselves over to the Spirit who inhabited Jesus and worked through Him. By hoping in the Spirit and depending on the help of the Spirit.
Later in the book of Isaiah, the prophet describes people who live this way as those who “mount up with wings like eagles”.
Let me tell you something about eagles. Though they have big wings, they don’t have exceptionally strong muscles with which to flap them. Pound for pound, hummingbirds, for example, have stronger muscles. Nor do eagles soar because they can flap their wings exceptionally fast. Hummingbirds, again, can flap theirs much faster.
Eagles fly high because they have a sharp eye for wind currents and thermal updrafts, and just enough strength to ride on a power greater than their own.
Eagles perch on the edge of a canyon and then risk a fatal fall by launching themselves into thin air, thousands of feet above the hard ground. They flap their wings a tad, but their main contribution to their flight is to hold their outstretched wings steady against the wind, that it might keep them aloft and push them onward and upward.
The Spirit is the wind underneath our wings when we obey God’s promptings and risk ourselves in the hope of being raised up by a power beyond our own.
We are foolish to rely on frantic flapping…foolish, too, to hold on to being in control instead of turning over control to a Force that can take us further than we could ever take ourselves.
A certain church elder tells the following story on himself. One evening, as he was watering his tomatoes, he realized his use of the garden hose was showing him how he was working for the kingdom of heaven. Just as he was directing the spray this way and that, he was keeping the Lord’s work under his control: dictating how, when and whom he would serve. Why, with his spray attachment, he could even stop the flow of water altogether if he felt like it. His passing on God’s grace was subject to his mood, his calculations of success, and even how much sleep he got the night before.
He happened to notice a soaker hose in his neighbor’s planter. It had no shut-off attachment and watered the ground continually and indiscriminately. Because it had dozens of little openings to let out the water that filled it, it passed on everything it had and blessed everything around it.
This Advent we’d do well to live like soaker hoses: open to receive the water of life from the Spirit and open to letting it out continually and indiscriminately in order to bless those around us. We’d do well to pour it out from every pore of our being – without concern for the timing, the worthiness of the recipient, or the expected impact. After all, if it is God who is filling us with the living water of His Spirit, won’t there always be more than enough for us and more than enough to share?
So, in trust of Him, let us give up control and give ourselves over to the Spirit of the Root of Jesse that by Him we might saturate our corner of the world with His peace, be a signal of the presence of His future, and today’s outposts of His tomorrow. Let us pray.