God’s Peaceable Kingdom, by Pastor Noel

  • December 4, 2016

December 3/4, 2016      2 Advent A

 

      Advent is the season for hopeful anticipation. A season of joyful waiting.

      But this year we seem to be waiting for a gospel reading that sounds like good news!

      Sheeeesh! Last week’s gospel was pretty grim, but how’d you like to stand up here and proclaim, “You brood of vipers!” Not very inviting!  

      John the Baptizer sure takes away the warm fuzzies, doesn’t he? What a scary figure he seems—clad in smelly camel’s skins and eating pods from the locust tree and wild honey.  A preacher once said, “You know his camel hair didn’t come from Brooks Brothers!”

      But many people came to John as he preached and baptized in the wilderness along the Jordan. He was bringing them the ancient message of the Prophet Isaiah.

      Today we hear about the peaceable kingdom from Isaiah—and here’s a little Bible trivia for you. Did you notice that you didn’t hear about the lion and the lamb together? We read of the wolf and lamb, the leopard and the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling, but nowhere in Scripture do we read about the lion and the lamb being cozy—I wonder why that image has taken hold, and not the others Isaiah gives us?

      Or maybe the photo I took Friday at the pond where I live—the Great Blue Heron shall feed with the Mallards.

      The peaceable kingdom is not just for animals, of course, it is for all of God’s creation to be living in God’s righteousness.

      This is a lovely passage, but not all of Isaiah is that easy to hear. Earlier this week in Morning Prayer I read from Isaiah, “What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?’ says the Lord God of hosts.”

      This isn’t about cute animals, it is about helping to bring healing of many kinds to a hurting world. As the Psalm says, it is about defending “the needy among the people.” About rescuing the poor and crushing the oppressor. It is about working with God’s help to have a system that offers us God’s ways, God’s justice.      

      That’s the image in this passage from Isaiah that I hope we hear—and heed and put into action. The image of God’s righteousness.

      I love the King James Version translation of righteousness—as I’ve said before, it means “being right-wise with God.”

      We are right-wise with God when we try to live into God’s kingdom. God’s righteousness has its basis in God’s justice—the peaceable kingdom, if you will.

      God’s justice is equality and shared resources. It is about promoting inclusion and giving everyone a chance.

      But God will not do that all alone, we are expected to help spread the good news of God’s rule, God’s authority: salvation and redemption. To spread the good news and help make it happen.

      So John invited people to be cleansed in the river, and to turn away from whatever they had been doing that separated them from God, and to live lives that bore good fruit.

      “Repent!” he said, because God’s authority is closer than you think. Turn around, (that’s what “repent” means – turn away from whatever is separating us from God) change your life and be ready for the One whom God is sending.

      And I don’t want to burst your Advent bubble, but think about the One whom God is sending. Jesus, the One we will welcome as a tender little babe in a manger, didn’t stay a tender little babe.

      Jesus was a lot more likeable than John—but he was just as fierce and gutsy about proclaiming the kingdom of God, and calling us to live it.

      John came to begin the process of destroying the system that makes people think they are better than others.

      Any others.

      This is the system that says we are wheat and that “they” (whoever “they” happen to be at the moment) are the chaff.  This is evil. It is not a good system!

      The system– the one that has the world in thrall to evil—the system says that “they” are of no significance, let the wind take them.

      But in the kingdom of heaven, living under God’s authority, we are all one. It doesn’t help to brag that we are descended from, related to, anyone. That means nothing to God.

      When we accept that we are all God’s children and we live to show God’s authority in our lives and over our lives—that means everything to God.

      John has been called the last of the prophets. He was the last in the Bible, but there are still prophets around today.

      Speaking loudly and making promises and threats –this does not make one a prophet!

      Prophets speak with God’s voice. Prophets call for us to work for God’s kingdom, for us and for everyone.

      Prophets call us to open our hearts and our lives to make room for the stranger, the one who is different.

      Prophets call us to take risks, if we have to, so that the one who is different won’t feel different and left out.

      The safety pin I wear is a sign that I am a safe person. If someone is being bullied or harassed, the safety pin says that I will be there with them.

      Is that scary—yes, it is. Maybe not here in South County, but on a big city subway – that’s a different story. I’ve been bullied enough to know that a safe person or a safe place is a life saver.

      Am I a prophet? I guess that I am, maybe—sometimes.

      I do know that there are prophets all around. Two of the best examples I see are Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.

      Desmond Tutu is well known for working against apartheid in South Africa. He was a major voice in ending the unspeakable violence in that country.    

      I think our bishop is a prophet, in words and actions. He was acting with God’s voice when he was part of the group that welcomed a refugee family to RI last year.

      Each of us can be a prophet. We don’t have to wear ratty, smelly, camel skins. We can just be ourselves. We are prophets each time we reach out and share God’s kingdom of love and inclusion. We are prophets as we seek to bring peace and unity instead of division. We are prophets when we turn away from violence toward a kingdom of God’s peace. A peaceable kingdom.

      Advent is a time of waiting, of looking ahead with joyful expectation. But our waiting is not passive, like sitting waiting for a bus, but active and purposeful, like using our prophetic voice. Crying out in what seems like wilderness, like John the Baptizer.

      Each of us can find a way to be in touch with God’s voice for us, now, at Christmas, and beyond.

      In Advent we are creating in ourselves a place where Jesus will live. Creating a space from which God’s righteousness will flow and flourish. May we not remain babes in the manger. May we grow into prophets, living and proclaiming the strong, Godly, truths that Jesus shows us.

      Advent is a time for us to open ourselves up to live in God’s kingdom. With God’s help, may it be a prophetic kingdom, and a peaceable kingdom,

 

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details