Aloha Friday Message – December 2, 2016 – 2nd Advent 2016

1649AFC120216 – 2nd Advent

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Isaiah 11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

Matthew 3:7-10 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor;’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax 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.”

Advent is progressing. The stores and online shopping sites are bulging with stuff, enticing us to be indulgent and buy it for family, friends, coworkers, and – of course – for ourselves. We want what we want when we want it which is now. So much is going on! Amid the Holiday Rush we also have catastrophes in nature, unspeakable acts of violence and hate, corruption in every high and low place, and somehow – in all the ruckus and racket – a voice is heard saying Μαρανα θα! Μαραν αθα! Maranâ thâ’! Maran ‘athâ’ – Come Lord! Our Lord has come! That, as we like to say, is “the reason for the season.” Some folks – including the President-Elect – announce, “It’s OK to say to me, ‘Merry Christmas.'” Some grouse about the commercialization of a religious holiday. Some of the same people brave the surging tides of shoppers on Black Friday which has now become a weeks-long event. There are 75-foot tall Christmas trees decorated with thousands of lights and ornaments. Some neighborhoods are lit up like a Las Vegas Casino with all kinds of colorful, often noisy and expensive displays of elves and reindeer, snowmen and candy canes, and even a laser projector tracing patterns on the wall of the house. Department store windows are filled with animatronics and “once-in-a-lifetime bargains.” Underneath and above and woven all through that in threads as thin as fine silk, we catch snatches of tunes about Bethlehem, angels, shepherds, and a young Jewish couple sleeping in a cave full of livestock where The Reason for the Season was born.

Where is the voice that cries out in the wilderness? What can or should we do to better hear that voice? And where do we need to be or go so that we, too, can see the Infant who is the Prince of Peace? Come to think of it, that all happened 2,000 or so years ago. Why are we waiting for his coming and celebrating his birthday? If “Advent” means the coming of someone or something important, what in the world are we waiting for anyway? To answer that, we need to go back about 700 years to the prophet Isaiah. You may remember hearing our opening topic-verse:

Isaiah 11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

If you follow the link there, you’ll be whisked away to March 14, 2014 where there are additional details about this verse. In part, you will learn that olive trees can live to be hundreds of years old. As they age they become more gnarled and even hollow, but they still produce fruit – good fruit! Eventually, though, a tree stops producing fruit, and is cut down. The stump is left. The extensive root system that formerly feed the ancient tree is still in the earth. It continues to feed the wood in the stump. With careful attention, the stump can send forth a shoot that grows to be a new olive tree. It is tender and fragile like any sapling, but it has a tremendous advantage – an extensive, well-established, efficient root system! The sapling can be easily broken off or munched by an animal, but if the one who tends the grove takes care of the shoot – it grows and produces excellent fruit often in greater quantity than before. That is Isaiah’s message. God is saying, “I’m going to cultivate a new tree from the roots of the old, and the new tree will give you everything the old one did and even more.

olivetree_nazvillage_fjenkins_043010_140tThis image used by Isaiah was something the people of Israel understood clearly. Isaiah’s poetry was largely a commentary on the historical changes in the nation during his life – the wars, the intrigue, the failures of leadership, and the eventual defeat of Israel’s enemies. A significant feature of that victory for Israel would be a victory for the whole world – even for the gentiles who had been their enemies. It would be the fulfillment of the covenant-prophesy of salvation: The Messiah. Isaiah’s message kept coming back to the coming of the Messiah. We hear much from his beautiful prophecies during Advent Season. Another very familiar passage is in chapter 40.

A Voice Cries out in the Wilderness (↔ Music Link)

Isaiah 40:3-5 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.”

Once again, Isaiah is using figurative language that would resonate with the Israelites years later when Babylonia’s armies swept in and carried of tens-of-thousands away from Jerusalem and Judea as the beginning of The Babylonian Captivity. Why would he talk about leveling mountains and filling in valleys? Is that what the Israelites had to do to get back home? In a way, yes, they needed to prepare the way, but not in a physical sense. Here’s the “back story.”

Whenever Kings and Princes in the “Fertile Crescent” and even farther eastward would march into new territories, they would send messengers and soldiers ahead to “iron things out.” Obstacles that would hinder travel or complicate the conquest were removed to make it easier for that ruler and his retinue to travel. People, places, and things were torn down or built up so that movement across the territory and its politics would be easier. Sometimes these were enormous engineering projects and were very impressive displays of power and wealth. Isaiah is telling the people that they need to prepare their hearts to welcome back the Lord. They have abandoned him, and he will allow Babylon to take them away from what he has provided for them. They must humble the proud and build up the lowly so that in every place and every heart, the Lord alone stands on level ground in their hearts and minds. Only he is above all else and all others. That is the message John the Baptist brought.

We read about John’s mission in Matthew 3:1-3. He is sent to help prepare the way for the King of kings and Lord of lords. The proud will be humbled and brought low, the meek and marginalized will be lifted up, wrong-thinking will be made right, and the violent will be gentled. In Matthew’s Gospel, we see how the “Keepers of The Law” reacted to this. They didn’t like it, not one bit. They didn’t realize that their misplaced self-confidence, nationalism and pride, and – worst of all – their hypocrisy were obstacles that had to be removed to “make straight the way of The Lord.” John told them that they would be cut down (like an old olive tree) if they didn’t start producing the good fruits of repentance. (Matthew 3:7-10)

Those fruits of repentance would lead them to their citizenship in the Kingdom of God. It would become for them the difference bringing holiness and happiness. They would be twice-born and constantly-borne. Belovéd, we have the same choice. Like them, we are pulled two ways; secular and sacred, commercialized and consecrated, pleasantness and prayerfulness, busy or blissful. Our hearts, minds, and spirits need to be evened out so that when The King of Glory Comes (↔ Music Link), there is no person, place, or thing that stands in the way of our rejoicing. We are waiting for The King to come to hearts humble and free; we are also waiting for his promised return when The Glory of The Lord will be revealed. We are waiting for the New Shoot to bear good and abundant fruit. Then, as or faith is deepened by knowledge and understanding of his Word, Wisdom will grow like a new shoot sprouting up from the ancient roots of the Faith God alone inspires, sustains, and blesses. Μαρανα θα! Μαραν αθα! Maranâ thâ’! Maran ‘athâ’ – Come Lord! Our Lord has come! Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever — at your service, Belovéd!

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE) New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Aloha Friday Messages by Charles O. Todd, III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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