A sermon starter for the 2016 Advent Offering written by Eric Landram, pastor of Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren.
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-2).
“You can’t rush perfection!” My dad uses that line every single time he is grilling for a cookout. When he is hard at work, our family constantly hovers around him and the pleasant aromas from his cooking device of choice. “How much longer? We can’t stand waiting much longer,” we wail. “Can’t rush perfection, sorry,” he replies. He’s right. You shouldn’t rush a good thing.
Now that Halloween is over, our society has rushed right to Christmas. In a mad dash for your consumer dollar, businesses and corporations anticipate your holiday spending with joyful glee. We rush, blazing right past the Thanksgiving turkey and straight to the Christmas tree. We want the perfect Christmas and we want it now.
In the church, we can have a tendency to fall into this same pattern. We are quick to begin singing Christmas carols that proclaim the Messiah’s birth. Our sermons, scripture readings, and youth pageants put us on the theological fast-track to the manger, complete with wise men. We would do well to remember to slow down.
This is Isaiah’s new vision of hope. The stump has sprouted and the branch is growing, but it will take time. There is a sense of “good things come to those who wait” and “trust in the Lord” going on here. Isaiah is speaking to a people that are so desperate, so hopeless, and so defeated by the state of their world. Isaiah’s words are a comfort. Good news! There is someone coming who will bring about a new vision of hope and a new sense of belonging. The best part? This someone will usher in a new era of righteousness.
This new world looks radically different. Wolves and lambs, leopards and kids, the fiercest hunters in nature will live at peace with those whom they have consumed in the past. Isaiah says, “For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.” The words of Jesus, and his life, from manger to cross and tomb have given us the knowledge of God’s plan for all people. Isaiah’s words are relevant and serve as a reminder for us even today. The Kingdom of God is growing. The branch of righteousness has sprung! We, as the church, are to tend the garden, to assist the branch in springing forth.
Our Advent sermons should take some time to acknowledge the difficulty in waiting for the birth of the Messiah while at the same time lifting up the significance of anticipating and waiting for this promised savior. If Advent is anything for us as followers of Jesus, it is the reminder to slow down in the midst of the clanging and gonging of our modern world, and listen for that still small voice that reminds us each year that “Christ is coming soon.” You can’t rush perfection.