You are filled with the Spirit, anointed by God, filled with wisdom, understanding, and all those gifts of the Spirit, so that you might live as Christ and bring about God’s reign of peace.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday of Advent, year A
Texts: Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12; Romans 15:4-13
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Judah was in a terrible situation.
Now nearly three hundred years after David’s great kingdom split in two, the northern kingdom, Israel, was pressuring Judah to join an alliance to resist the great empire Assyria, an empire which eventually destroyed the northern kingdom. The heir to David’s throne, Ahaz, was wicked, didn’t worship the true God, even burned up one of his sons as a sacrifice, and wasn’t capable of leading well in this crisis. David’s family, the tree of Jesse, had seemingly come to an end, at least in terms of worthy kings. The tree looked about to be cut off, left as a stump.
But Isaiah declared a dead stump isn’t always dead. A shoot, a new growth, would grow out of that stump, a faithful and righteous ruler in David’s line was coming. One filled with God’s Spirit, like David. The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of God, the spirit of delight, would be in this Davidic ruler.
And peace would come from this ruler’s reign. Natural enemies would live in peace and quietness together. The poor would receive justice. The meek would receive fair and equal treatment.
Now, Ahaz’ son, Hezekiah, was faithful and righteous, and a good ruler, and perhaps Judah saw him as the fulfillment of this prophetic promise. David’s tree wasn’t fully rotten and dead, after all.
But about 700 years later, the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead after his brutal execution, did a bold thing with these words.
They said: Jesus is the shoot from the stump. The Davidic kingship had completely died out by Jesus’ day, a true dead stump. Jesus, of David’s family, was humiliated and crucified. Truly dead. Yet now he was and is alive, raised. Life from death, just like the green shoot.
And the Spirit of God was clearly upon him. If anyone had the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of God, the spirit of joy, it was Jesus.
Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom lived in him, too. He lived non-violently, preached peace, and even let his own people kill him rather than lift a weapon. He proclaimed God’s love and mercy, and showed it in his own suffering and death for the sake of the world. In Jesus they saw a glimpse of this new reign of God. Just as David and all his line were anointed God’s servants, literally God’s Christs, God’s Messiahs, so too was Jesus, they believed. It all made sense. So the Church boldly claimed these verses for the Christ, the Son of God, and so we still do.
But pay attention, because we’re about to do something even more wondrously audacious.
This morning we will take an eight-month old baby girl and claim this Messianic promise applies to her. That she’s our sign of God’s new life in a dying world.
We’ll first baptize her with water in the Triune Name, as Jesus commanded. That’s not as shocking.
But then we will lay hands on her head and pray, “Sustain her with the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence.” Yes. We will claim those words are hers.
We’ll then anoint her head with olive oil, just like King David himself. She will become an anointed one of God, just like King David. Just like Jesus. Literally a Messiah. A Christ.
We claim this whole prophecy for Isla today. As God’s anointed, she’ll be filled with God’s Spirit, be a messenger of peace, justice, mercy. Her life will be a sign, a glimpse, of God’s reign of peace and love.
This is a world changing claim we’re making on this little girl, saying, “She is now Christ for us and for this world, God’s anointed.” Little wonder we ask her parents to raise her in the faith, teach her about God, bring her to this worshipping community, give her God’s Scriptures. We need them to, because we also declare that our hope for Isla is that she’ll learn to “trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.” She’ll also need her sponsors’ prayers and support, and the love and prayers of all of you for what we claim on her.
But here’s a blessing for Isla: she’s not the only Christ. Not by a long shot.
I can’t begin to count how many heads I’ve laid my hands upon and prayed this prayer at baptism, how many heads I’ve laid my hands upon and prayed this prayer at confirmation. And every time we do the liturgy of affirmation of baptism, we pray this prophetic promise onto ourselves.
Isla joins you in the great community of the anointed ones of God, the Christs God sends into the world. Because, as John the Baptist said today, the baptism Jesus came to bring is a baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire. Jesus’ Baptism is Pentecost.
At Pentecost, you see that Jesus is just the first step. Now the Spirit of God is upon you, too, and the fire of God’s breath and life in your heart, just as at the beginning. Not John’s destroying fire, but a purifying, cleansing fire that makes you new, and a soul-igniting fire that sends you out as Christ into the world yourself.
Now Isla joins the Pentecost people. We won’t send her out just yet. She needs to live under the promises and care of her parents and sponsors and of us, her community in faith.
But you, and I, we’re sent out now. What does that mean for you?
To claim Isaiah’s Messianic promise as your own means to trust that God’s Spirit is actually in you, as promised. As given in your baptism. It is to trust that you are, in fact, God’s Anointed.
Can you look into your heart and your life for signs that the Spirit of God has come to you? Moments where God’s wisdom gave you clarity, where understanding of who you were and what God was calling you to do came? Moments where you were able to give wise counsel to others as God’s anointed? Where you felt the might of God’s powerful love, the strength of grace and forgiveness within you?
Consider what you know now about God, God’s love, God’s call to you, Spirit-knowledge, that you didn’t know last year. Or ten years ago. Can you see moments when the Holy Spirit has lifted up your heart to God, filled you with joy and delight?
Sometimes you can’t see these gifts at the time, but you can look back on the path and notice what God has done. You can hold Isaiah’s words in your heart and keep watch. Now that you know you’ve had this claimed as a promise for you, you can see it better.
And then you can also live it better.
The Spirit comes, Isaiah says, and John the Baptist agrees, to turn God’s people into people of peace, and justice, and mercy. To change predators into compassionate companions. To create a world where those who are poor finally find justice, and those who are not powerful find equity and fairness.
That’s what the wisdom and understanding, the counsel and might, the knowledge and fear of God, the joy in God’s presence, is for: that you actually live as Christ Jesus lived, and bear this peaceable reign of God in your very body, your voice, your hands, your heart, your life.
Oh, but you say, that can’t be me. I’m really not that important.
I don’t think I have any of those attributes. I certainly can’t do all the things Jesus did. Changing all that’s wrong with this world seems just as impossible as, I don’t know, a baby playing with a venomous snake and being safe, or . . . a wolf napping with a lamb.
But did you not hear? Even if something is as dead as an old stump, God can bring a shoot of new life and nourish the world. Even if the Son of God is dead and gone on a cross, God can raise him up to a glorious life that pours healing into the world.
Stumps can still live. Death can’t stop God’s life. God’s Spirit can do all this in you, and more. And Paul promises you this today: the power of the Holy Spirit will fill you with joy, and peace, and an abundance of hope. Along with all of Isaiah’s promises.
Be audacious, as audacious as we are with little Isla today, and claim this as your truth. Because it already has been declared about you, the Holy Spirit has already been given you, and as we prayed to begin this liturgy, God is about to stir up your heart to live as God’s Christ.
So, as Jesus said last week, wake up. Things are going to start getting interesting for you. And the world is going to be saved along with it.
In the name of Jesus. Amen