Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
Reading Hebrew scripture texts “Christianly” should always be done with great care and respect. When we come to words like those of Isaiah, we want to realize that they had great meaning and import in the community of Jewish hearers for quite a long time before the Church came along and used them to interpret the life of Jesus as Messiah.
It is intriguing to see the work of the Spirit of God through the lens of this passage; there are seven “spirits” at work here — or, one could say there is a seven-fold manifestation of God’s Spirit described. All of these are descriptors of the one that will be described as the “shoot” or “root” of Jesse. (The connection to King David is always important for Israel when thinking about the ultimate expression of God’s King.)
This passage is certainly read in the context of Jesus’ life; it also reads quite well for any leader who would follow the path of God’s will for God’s people. What do you think it means to have each of these qualities in one’s life as a “Spirit-filled” person?
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
The psalmist also sets the tone for the king (or leader) who would rule in the way God desires. Most of these qualities we have no problem acknowledging as good and helpful for a leader: justice, righteousness, prosperity, concern for equity, alleviation of suffering, defending the poor etc. But — then we get the phrase “may he crush the oppressor.”
What lies behind this concept in a long-ago, warlike culture like Israel’s? Is there any precedent for praying this kind of leadership in our time? How would you word this prayer for the leader and use it for your own national, regional, and local authorities?
One of the great things about studying scripture is realizing that it has been written “for our instruction….” We gain a real benefit from the wisdom and example portrayed in these ancient words. Will we continue to take advantage of the resource that is offered to us?
Paul is going to great lengths to help the Roman church understand that Jesus is very much connected to the Hebrew scriptures that have been written as instruction. Beginning in v.9, he lists seven different passages that, in his estimation, support the claim of Jesus as the fulfillment God made to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, et al.)
[You can find the cross-references here at Biblegateway.com, if you're interested.]
Of real interest to me: what does it mean for us to welcome others “as Christ has welcomed us?”
Oh, boy — John! I think most of what I want to say about this passage can be found at my previous commentary here.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
“I’m lost — where in the world is Bucksnort?” Her friend’s plaintive plea made my wife, well, snort with laughter. Jeannie and the kids had come up from Atlanta to Nashville and visited a few days; then they headed out to visit other friends further east at Tennessee Tech before heading back home in Georgia. They were supposed to get on I-40 East, but a little over an hour after they left, they called. When they saw the “Welcome to Bucksnort” sign, they knew they had made a wrong turn somewhere. After we finished laughing, we told Jeannie it was an easy fix, all she had to do was turn around and go back the other way on the Interstate. It would take her a few hours now, but she would get to Tennessee Tech for supper.
What Jeannie and the kids did was repent; turn around and go the other way, head in a new direction. That’s the simplest meaning of the word metanoia which is translated repentance in our Gospel lesson. It is a difficult word for us to hear right now, here in the midst of all our “getting ready for Christmas” business. Most of us have a list of things that have to be done in the next couple of weeks; and truth be told, most of them aren’t done, or aren’t on schedule, or aren’t things we really want to do, or aren’t things that make us more aware of God’s will and way in the world. But, but, it’s the list, and we’ve always done this for Christmas. And it wouldn’t be Christmas without it. Etc. Etc. But, if there is any of this that is just getting to be too much, there is a simple fix. Go a different way. Put down the Christmas “to do” list and back away. Take some time to think before you celebrate.
To repent is not so much to beat yourself up for being a bad person, or crying out to God about how sorry you are; (believe me, God already knows). John the Baptist called the people to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” We are called to do the same today. We are called to look at our lives and decide if we are going in the right direction, following the correct path, adhering to the way of Jesus Christ. And if not, now is the time to move in a new and better direction. For no matter how far we may have gone in the wrong direction, there is always hope with God; and turning to go in a new way is always the dawn of a new day in the life of the spirit.
Our lessons for today are filled with images of hope, of the promise of renewal that God is bringing into our lives. The first sentence of our first lesson from Isaiah is a promise of God’s new day in the middle of what looks to be a hopeless situation. “A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse.” In the last part of chapter 10, Isaiah has talked about how God will cut down the kingly like trees, “He will strike down the forest thickets with an ax,” (Is. 10:34 CEV) yet chapter 11 begins with a promise of hope; Jesse was King David’s father, so the stump of Jesse is the decimated kingly line of descent. A righteous branch sprouting from these wiped out roots is a sign of God’s power to bring us all back from the edge of failure and death to the new dawn of joy and life; joy and life represented by the beautiful images of the peaceable kingdom to come.
For the promise of the Gospel is the promise of hope. Our reading from Romans is full of Paul reminders that our God is a God of hope and our story is a story of promises made and kept. We read the scriptures, “that we might have hope.” (15:4) Christ came to be a servant leader (a shoot from the stump of Jesse) “that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs.) (15:8)
And especially in the last two verses “. . . . ‘the root of Jesse shall come, the one to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (15:12-13)
So, this Second Sunday in Advent, as you find yourself rushing through life to do the next thing on your list, to find the next place on your itinerary; if you find yourself in a Bucksnort of the soul; a spiritual place you neither expected nor wanted to visit; take a moment to reorient yourself. Consider this a call to repentance; a call to turn and take your Christmas and your life in a new direction – a direction filled with “fruit worthy of repentance.”
Amen and amen.