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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Government by Root and Branch - Sermon for Advent 2, 2016

Isaiah 11: 1 – 10
Psalm 72

We are accustomed to hearing these words from the prophet Isaiah during the Advent / Christmas season. We read them through the sparkled vision of misty, sentimental eyes. We hear them through the warmth of nostalgia and the hope for a glorious future. And this is not necessarily wrong.

We understand the prophet’s words as a messianic prophecy, a description of the coming Jesus Christ, and of his eternal kingdom.  And this is good. And this is true. But this is not all. There is something “lost from the original if we limit the application of this oracle to Jesus Christ. It was realized in him, but it is meant to be realized in all who govern” (Kilpatrick 248).It is good to see the picture of Jesus, our Messiah in this passage, but if we neglect and ignore the meaning for the now-present situation in favor of the ideal, future vision then have missed something important.

Like Psalm 72, Isaiah 11 is intended as a description of an ideal and messianic king, but also as the proper terms to describe the rule and kingship of someone who has just ascended to the throne of Israel and been (symbolically) adopted as “Son of God.” (Scott 247)  It is one part propaganda and one part religious tract. It is hyperbole and challenge. It is a royal, enthronement passage of the then current king as well as (but not primarily) a description of the ideal, and future kingdom.

We should be careful when transposing a text written thousands of years ago in a theocratic monarchy into our current pluralistic, democratic republic. The cultures are very different.  But the texts stand: they are both promises for the rule of the king of those years long ago and for governing officials today. They are the vision of the ideal king that we long for and hope for, but also the standards we should expect from our government officials – especially those who claim to be faithful believers of God’s word.

Both passages (Psalm 72 and Isaiah 11) could be boiled down to a simple platform – to a slogan worthy of any political campaign: “No hurt, no harm will be done...” (Isaiah 11: 9).  The king / governing officials are to lead with integrity, fairness, to uphold justice, to be upright, and constant. They are to have compassion on the poor and the meek, and to save the needy from death. They are to redeem the people from violence and oppression. They are not to give bribes to the rich and the powerful, but to give justice to the poor and the humble.

“The ultimate goal of the struggle against poverty is the elimination of all forms of oppression: racial, social, economic, political, cultural, sexist and so on. Though this may sound utopian,” (and Isaiah’s description of the ox and the lion eating together and infants safely playing with snakes is very return-to-Eden-Utopian), “it is, nevertheless, the goal of those who strive for a more just, participatory, and sustainable society” (Santa Ana 84).

During this season of Advent, as we wait and prepare for the coming of our ideal and perfect King and of his glorious Kingdom we consider these words from the psalmist and the prophet. And as we have a new President-Elect, waiting to take office in about a month, we consider how these passages apply to our world today. Our new president will appoint advisors and cabinet members to help him govern, and we will pray for him and for them.  But we will also hold them accountable to these words.

They are the hope and the challenge of every king and governing official, the dream and the warning. They are the standard and the expectation. There are praises for the king and government that strives for this idealized, utopian peaceable kingdom; there is blessing because they fill the world with the glory of God. But there is warning as well. Woe to the government that ignores these words. And woe to the church that fails to hold government accountable to these expectations.

Kilpatrick, G.G.D. “Isaiah: Exposition” The Interpreter’s Bible: Volume V. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1956. Print.

Santa Ana, Julio De. Towards a Church of the Poor. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 1979. Print.

Scott, R.B.Y. “Isaiah: Exegesis” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume V. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1956. Print.

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