Happy baptism day, little buddy! What an exciting day! First Baby Jesus, then Baby Yoda, and now you! I started to write a sermon that tried to find a link between you three, but thought better of it. Besides, that wouldn’t really be right. We’re in Advent, Jesus hasn’t arrived yet.
Actually, that’s not quite right either. See, Advent is the season before Christmas, but it’s not really about waiting on the baby Jesus to arrive. It is about waiting on the coming of Christ, but not the first coming of Christ. It’s actually about the second and final coming of Christ.
I’m sure you understand all of this, but I’m going to explain it anyway because there are other people listening and I may have just confused them. There is a decent chance they have never heard of this before, or they may have forgotten. That happens.
The church, of which you are now a member, the Body of Christ as we’re called, we actually don’t spend Advent waiting for Christ to arrive. We are the ones who have heard the news that he already arrived.
We get together to remember this Gospel every Sunday, the Good News that Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ is Risen, and in Advent especially, we remember Christ will come again.
Advent is our chance to admit that Christ needs to arrive again, to admit that the world is not alright, ourselves included. In Advent, we the church sit with the problems of the world. We peer into the shadowy parts of reality, and we pray for, wait for, and point to the light we have been told to expect. Advent is actually our chance to admit the truth, that the world needs a second coming, and then point to the light of God’s promise that Christ will in fact come again.
No one is better at this than the prophets in the Bible, especially Isaiah.
Prophets are called by God to point these two realities out to us. First, they point to the problem: what’s wrong with the world, where it hurts, where it harms, where’s the problem. They point it out, and make us seewhat we may otherwise ignore. Then, without fail, no matter the problem, the next thing the prophets point to is God. That’s how we know what to do in Advent. We learned it from the prophets.
The way Isaiah does it in today’s reading is kind of funny. He actually asks us to use our imagination with him. Can you do that, Jack? Can you use your imagination with me? I’ll take your silence as a yes!
The first thing Isaiah tells us to imagine is a tree. Picture a tree, Jack. Actually, picture a bunch of trees. Picture them like a forest of family trees from throughout world. Now, find the one tree that’s right in front of you. This is the tree of Jesse, Jesse’s family tree. Jesse was the father of King David. And David was, at one time, the king of Israel.
David was not a perfect man. Actually he made terrible horrible mistakes in his life, but God loved him, and the people in his kingdom loved him too. The kingdom was called the kingdom of Israel and this tree here, it was like Israel’s favorite tree because it’s Jesse’s tree, the family tree of their favorite king, David.
Now Jack, imagine all the trees being cut down. Chop. Chop. Chop. One after another. Chop. Chop. Chop. The tree farmer is doing this because if a tree doesn’t bear good fruit, you chop it down. Chop. Chop. Chop.
This is how Isaiah points us to the problem. Isaiah is saying that none of the family trees, none of the tribes or kingdoms are bearing good fruit. They have made war when they should have made peace. They have taken what was not theirs. They have preyed upon the poor and failed to do what is good and instead have done what is evil.
Last of all, Jack, Isaiah says imagine Jesse’s tree as the last to fall. Chop. Chop. Chop. Boom. God’s own king, and God’s own people have failed. This is the problem. And all that is left is a stump.
Jack, now imagine a King. If your imagination is like my imagination you might picture a king on a throne. In one hand is the king’s scepter. It’s like a very fancy stick. This scepter shows you that this king is in charge. He’s like a judge. When there are disagreements or problems, or when someone is in trouble, the king with the scepter decides who is right, who is wrong, who lives, and who doesn’t. The king with the scepter has the power to bring justice (or not).
In the other hand the king holds a sword because the king is also in charge of defending and advancing his territory, fighting to protect and grow his kingdom. The king you are imagining, Jack, this is the kind of king the people love. It’s how Isaiah’s people remembered King David, the one from Jesse’s tree.
But now Jesse’s tree is cut down, so who will be the king? Who will bring justice and who will protect the kingdom? This is the problem Isaiah points us to. The world is not okay. None of the trees bear good fruit, and none of the kings, none of the rulers, or judges, or leaders of the world are truly bringing justice, or protecting their kingdom as God wants them too.
Now, imagine this. This part is a little scary at first. The next thing Isaiah tells us to imagine is a wolf, and then a leopard, and a lion, and a bear, Oh my! Then, there’s even a snake. [shudder]
Jack, what do all of these animals have in common? That’s right. Teeth. All of these animals Isaiah mentions, they’re all predators. They have teeth for eating other animals. That’s what makes them scary.
Isaiah says this is the problem. The leaders, the kings, even the people from these family trees, they’re behaving like leopards and lions and bears. They’re like snakes, preying on one another. They’re at each other’s throats. They’re not loving one another. They are hurting one another.
Now, Jack, next Isaiah says to imagine a place where a wolf lives with a lamb. Imagine a place where the leopard lies down with a little goat, a kid, and a lion and a baby cow are friends. Imagine a place where the cow and the bear eat the same grass while their babies play together nearby. In fact, imagine a child with them, reaching down a hole in the ground to find and play with his friend the snake.
Jack, do you see what I see? It’s a place where a lamb, or a calf, or a child, doesn’t need to be afraid. Where there was danger, now there’s safety. Where there was hurt, now there is healing. Where there was death, now there is life. It’s a different kind of animal kingdom, Jack. A different kingdom altogether. It’s a kingdom of peace.
Jack, I’m going to be honest with you because I’m now officially one of your older siblings and that’s what older siblings do. For most of the people in this room, for most of the people present in church on your baptism day, this different kingdom is very hard for us to imagine. We would love to tell you you were born in that kind kingdom, welcomed into that world but most of the time, all we can see around us are stumps and teeth. We are frustrated with our rulers. We are afraid of so many things, imaginary and real. We are not at peace, in fact, we often behave like those unjust kings. We bear our teeth at one another. And sometimes we just feel like one of those stumps.
Jack, the world you were born into, it’s a hard world. The way Isaiah and others explain it is that the world is actually under the power, under the shadow, of Sin and Death. The world is not a place of peace.
But, and this is a big but, Jack, That doesn’t mean that such a place does not exist. Listen to what Isaiah says next.
Imagine that stump, Jack, the root of Jesse’s tree. Isaiah says a shoot, a new branch, a rose even will grow from that stump. A new birth from a family tree that was as good as dead. The new birth will be a king from the same family as King David, but a different kind of king. This king will actually care for the poor, and lift up the lowly. He will bring justice as well as mercy. He will rule with righteousness because the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Wisdom, and the Spirit of Knowledge and Understanding will be His Spirit.
He will protect and grow his kingdom, but not with a sword. In fact, he has no weapons except the words that come from his mouth. His breath, breathed through his Word, is the only weapon he’ll use to establish his kingdom, but establish his kingdom he will.
In fact, it’s his kingdom where the wolf shall lie down with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid. It’s his kingdom where sharp teeth and swords and axes will finally be put down, and all creation will have nothing left to do but feast together.
Jack, you were not born into this world. You were not born in this kingdom. But it doesn’t mean this kingdom doesn’t exist. In fact, we know that it does exist because we have met its king.
Your parents brought you here today to meet him. And the church made promises today to make sure to teach you about him. Allow me to be the first to introduce you to this king who is unlike any other king. His name is Jesus.
Jesus is the King that came from Jesse’s chopped down family tree to care for the poor, and demonstrate justice, and strike down wickedness, and to heal and reconcile all of creation. But he was not the only power in the world. The powers of the shadow of sin and death, the same ones we struggle with, these powers tried to cut him down too. In fact, they put him on a cross made from cut down trees.
It seemed for a time that the kingdom Isaiah imagined for so long would never come. But then, get this Jack, like a new shoot, a new rose, growing from a chopped down tree, Jesus rose from the dead. And he told us that his kingdom shall have no end.
Jack, you were not born into this kingdom, but that is not because it does not exist. It does. You were not born into it, instead, hear the good new: today, you were adopted into it.
In your baptism, you have been adopted, even born again, and grafted onto Christ’s own family tree, the one growing from the stump Isaiah imagined.
Jack, you will not likely remember today. You won’t remember your baptism. That’s part of why I’m writing you this letter. You will forget. You may even experience times when you can no longer imagine the kingdom Isaiah points to. This is the power of the shadow of Sin and Death.
It clouds our memory and weakens our faith. Trust me. It will make you doubt. It will make you afraid. It will use whatever it can to make you reach for your ax, your sword, to make you bear your teeth at the ones you are meant to love. It will make you forget whose kingdom you are in. It may even make you believe you are the king, or that there is no king, no ruler, no God at all. You were baptized today in a room full of people experiencing this very thing in their daily lives.
That is why today you are being given a weapon, the king’s only weapon, the words breathed from his own mouth. These words: “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life. I hold power over Sin and Death. And you are my beloved. You are mine. My peace I give you. Be not afraid.”
The weapon you are given today is the Gospel, the Word of Jesus himself.
This is the world’s only weapon that can turns stumps into roses, and predators into peacemakers. It is the only weapon that has the power, in a world of fear, to bring Peace. And it is yours, given to you today in your baptism.
You’ll have to ask someone else to tell you about Baby Yoda. And you’ll have to come back at Christmas to hear about when Jesus was born as a baby like you.
But actually, that’s another reason why it’s great that you’re baptized in Advent, just before Christmas, because now, starting with your first Christmas, another one of Isaiah’s imaginings from today’s reading will come true: a little child shall lead you. You’ll get to see him in just a couple weeks. And he will lead you, into all peace. Welcome little brother. And thanks be to God. Amen.