Sunday, 5 December 2010

The magic kingdom

Readings: Isaiah 11 v 1-10

                 Matthew 3 v 1-12

It was tempting, this week, to simply project those images portrayed in Isaiah and let the text – and the images – fire our imaginations and speak for themselves.

For the vision of community portrayed in Isaiah is so compelling and so attractive:

6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
Advent is a time for getting ready, for looking forward to Christmas. But it is also a time for imagining. Imagining what that kingdom that God sent his son to usher in would be like. 
In our reading from Isaiah, we have a picture of that kingdom. 
And what a picture.
Of peace and harmony never seen before.
A peace and a harmony that even goes against nature.
What is it we are preparing for this advent?
We prepare for Heaven touching earth.
The picture Isaiah paints is one of Heaven truly touching earth.
Wolf and lion and lamb and bear and small child – all playing peaceably together.
It is tempting to just stop there, with that image in our heads, with an indulgent smile on our face, tempting just to drink in that vision and long for the day.
But then we read Matthew’s gospel and are called to a very rude awakening.
Because into this picture of peace and calmness romps John the Baptist, trailing his own peculiar form of madness and austerity. 
Demolishing the tranquillity.
Calling us back to reality.
John is heralding, not the baby Jesus about whom we can all get quite sentimental but the man about to begin his ministry.
John is preaching in the wilderness, not about a baby who is to be born, but about a full grown Messiah who is about to embark on a ministry that will change people’s lives.
A ministry that will liberate a people.
And just as John attempted to alert people in the wilderness to the enormity of what Jesus had come to do, so he crashes with just as little subtlety into our Advent preparations and calls on us to wake up.
John the Baptist calls us out of our cosy reverie and confronts us with the stark reality that the baby we prepare to welcome grew to be a man who calls us to a very different way of living.
Calls us not just to imagine that wonderfully perfect kingdom but to do our best to create it alongside God. 
John calls us to hold a mirror to our intentions, to examine our motives in welcoming the Christ child.
To shake off the cosiness, just for a moment and ask ourselves – what is it we think we are welcoming.
Is it a little child who will plaster over the cracks and make everything better?
Or is it the challenger who calls on us to act, who makes demands of us not just to dream but to change?
John the Baptist’s words are very harsh.
He pulls no punches, calling the religious of his day “a brood of vipers”.
He is uncompromising.
But his last words are not words of condemnation.
He speaks boldly and starkly.
But alongside his condemnation, he offers words of hope.
The hope that, if we are ready to look at ourselves, if we are prepared to wake up and shake off our complacency or our romantic notions about Jesus’ birth.
If we are prepared to own how much of a part we play in the injustice that plagues our world, that traps people in poverty, that denies all equal chances.
If we can open our eyes to all that in honesty, then there is hope for us.
And there is hope for our world.
Because the child born in the stable, who grew to launch a challenging ministry offers us a way to join in restoring what he came to establish.
Jesus comes to change our lives.
And to give us hope that we can make a difference.
That that kingdom that Isaiah pictured will one day be a reality.
Heaven comes to earth – that’s what we prepare for in Advent. 
Are we prepared to change to make that a reality?
As we share in the sacrament of communion today, may the grace of God, conveyed through the simplicity of bread and wine bring us hope.
Hope that we can change.
And hope that God’s kingdom can be born in our midst.


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