Each week on the blog I share a few tidbits, nuggets, or ideas for incorporating some stewardship themes in your preaching. This week’s nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for the Second Sunday of Advent are as follows:
The Second Sunday of Advent brings us more articulations of God’s promises. We hear more words about what God will do, and what God is doing. In thinking about stewardship then, perhaps pointing to these promises and hopes, and to God’s work and telling that story may be the starting place for timely stewardship reflections.
Let’s begin with the first lesson and these words of Advent we hear from the prophet Isaiah that will be recalled by John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and others. Isaiah proclaims, “A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins” (Isaiah 11:1-5, NRSV).
This really needs no unpacking. But in thinking about stewardship, perhaps it would be timely yet again to point to how this is God’s work, not ours. We couldn’t do any of this. But God will do it. And we hope and trust that these promises are true. But of course Isaiah isn’t done. He continues, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:6-10, NRSV).
God will reconcile. Not just all peoples who might be divided by any number of reasons, barriers, ideals, boundaries, etc. But God will reconcile all creation. Predators and prey will no longer be predators and prey to one another, but fellow creatures created and held in God’s love. What an image. One full of hope, peace, forgiveness, and community. This is perhaps a glimpse of what God’s kingdom might look like. And if so, oh what a wonderful kingdom it is and will be. One where we can’t help but want to see emerge, and one where we might all see that each of our unique gifts and passions are important as we interrelate with one another, locally and globally.
Turning to the second lesson, Paul offers and repeats good words of rejoicing, praise, and a joyful response to what God has done and what God will do. Paul writes, “As it is written, ‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name’; and again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’; and again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him’; and again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.’ 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” (Romans 15:9-13, NRSV). “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.” What a blessing and benediction, but also a great articulation of our response and life as a disciple and steward, abounding in hope.
The gospel story this week brings us to John the Baptist out in the wilderness, proclaiming about God and what is to come, and doing his thing. We read, “In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight'” (Matthew 3:1-3, NRSV).
The kingdom of heaven has come near. God is at work, God is present, and God is breaking into the world in a new way. The story continues, “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. ‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’” (Matthew 3:10-12, NRSV).
When one is baptized with the Holy Spirit, they are changed. They are not just cleaned with waters for repentance, they are claimed by God, once and for all as one of God’s beloved children. Marked and sealed with the cross of Christ forever. In that baptism, one is invited into a life as a Child of God, a life of discipleship and stewardship. A life of great meaning, though one with plenty of challenges as it’s certainly not always easy to be a disciple in a world that scoffs at faith and belief, and tells lies that divides rather than unites. A life where we live in the hope of Isaiah 11 and the joy and promise of the resurrection and Easter, but also the pains of Good Friday’s brokenness, derision, and division.
This is all God’s work. And we are invited to remember it, to see it, and to join in it. Maybe this invitation is just what your community is yearning to hear this Advent season.
Sunday December 8, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- Second Sunday of Advent – Week Fourteen (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Isaiah of the Exile
Focus Passages: Isaiah 40:1-11
Gospel Verse: Mark 1:1-4
The narrative moves this week from the prophet Jeremiah to the prophet Isaiah, and oh what a familiar and fitting text for this Second Sunday of Advent. It really needs no introduction. Isaiah 40 begins, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2, NRSV).
This familiar story begins with the words of hope and peace, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1, NRSV). It is also the passage that would be generations later quoted by John the Baptist, and is referenced and quoted in the beginning of the Gospel of Mark that is the suggested gospel verse pairing this week.
“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken’” (Isaiah 40:3-5, NRSV).
As the prophet proclaims, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low” (Isaiah 40:4, NRSV). The stage has been set. These Advent themes of preparation, hope, and comfort, are clear. But what I love most about this passage is the beautiful description of what God will do (which Handel may have used extensively in the composing and orchestration of The Messiah):
- “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5, NRSV).
- “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep” (Isaiah 40:11, NRSV).
This time of Advent, a season of preparation is also a time of reminder that it is God’s work that is done for us and for all creation.
How do we make room and prepare? How do we settle and find time to be still in the midst of the busyness of life that is especially common during December? This week it seems would be a good one to ponder stewardship in its fullest sense- the stewardship of life. Taking up these, or any related questions might just make for a wonderful stewardship infused message.
The accompanying gospel verse comes from the beginning of Mark, and sets the stage for John the Baptist proclaiming about the one who is to come, inviting us to prepare. Again repeating this theme that is so timely during Advent. We read, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’, John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:1-4, NRSV).
These are all rich stories this week. Wherever the Spirit moves you this week, may you find the time to prepare and be present with God, and may God’s love and presence be made know through you too. And 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.
(The reflections here on Isaiah 40 have been slightly adapted from my prior commentary on this text when it last was included in the RCL in 2017, found here in this commentary from December 10, 2017.)