Isaiah 11: 1-10 & Matthew 3: 1-12
 “Birth Prep (2 of 3) God’s Presence is Change!”

 “Birth Prep (2 of 3) God’s Presence is Change!”

Isaiah 11: 1-10 & Matthew 3: 1-12 ~ Northwood UC ~ December 4, 2022  

Last week, we began a journey. Fresh steps into the newly fallen snow; footsteps into freshly blown sand as the sun comes up; the beginning of our Advent journey in this new year. We move into this new year making preparations for a birth: remembering a birth that occurred two millennia ago; a birth that has continued again and again…in the hearts of any who would prepare room in the centre of their being.  

And last week, we commenced with a reminder that a baby changes everything. And we were confronted with the tension that we do not much like change. In fact, we are hard-wired to avoid, resist and deny any change that is thrust upon us. We all sheepishly agreed that we are status quo seeking people who prefer to socially distance from change, and avoid it if at all possible.  

This morning, we move head on into the reality of God. What is God? Really…what is God? This morning we consider God as that essence in the universe that brings change; that evokes change; that is change. God’s nature is that of change. God’s story in our tradition begins with change. Not one, but two stories of creation of God’s orchestral ushering of the universe into being. Seven movements shaping all of Creation…change is God’s dynamic identity. God called forth the change as Abram and Sarai left for the land of Promise. God called forth freedom when the people lived in slavery. God brought miraculous change; God brought provision was a changing reality; God brought forth…God was change.  

I would like to focus some of our time on the Edward Hicks painting entitled “The Peaceable Kingdom” that is on the screen and on the front of our leaflet. This familiar painting is all about the change that Isaiah prophecies in the first reading that Jennifer offered for us. What do you see in this powerful image? What stands out? As a whole, it is almost a return to Eden that the writer of Genesis depicted. It is the image of the peace; peace where all live in harmony. At the time that Isaiah was prophesying, that we call 1st Isaiah, there was horrible tension and war. War had broken out in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, as they were eventually conquered by Arameans in the 8th Century. In Southern Kingdom of Judah, Babylon would conquer them three centuries later. War with Assyria; war with Babylon…so much war. Yet, Isaiah had this prophecy of a peace that would come!  

What Isaiah speaks about is change! God will bring change! God’s change will come in the peaceable Kingdom. God’s change will arrive when God's reign is fully birthed. What are you seeing? Perhaps you are noticing the people…not in the foreground, but in the background. Is all of God’s creation now being valued? In new ways? Perhaps he is suggesting that we are, merely, a part of creation…not centre stage? Change! Do we notice the predator animals? The wolf, the leopard, the lion, and the bear. Powerful, scary animals. Yet…they will live in harmony with the domestic animals. The lamb, the calf, the kid, and the cow. We see a small child playing over the holes of poisonous stakes. What might that look like…to have the vulnerable in the world play among the toxic, poisonous parts of the world? Children playing over the den of a snake. Isaiah’s vision, and this depiction of it, are all about change. God’s change that is coming into all creation birthing peace!  

There is an interesting word used in the Hebrew text that can get lost in the English translation. That word is “knowledge”. The text puts it this way “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The 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. From Jesse, through his lineage with David would come the one who would bring peace. Scholars view this text in Isaiah as being among the 3 messianic oracles. This was the foretelling of the messiah who’s coming would bring peace. And his knowledge would not be of a cognitive nature. His knowledge would be more than that. It would be a full entering into, and experiencing, of what is known. He would birth a new era of peace, so that the earth would be infused with the reality of God.  

This was the knowledge that followers later saw in Jesus. His peaceful arrival was the birth of change. His arrival was not heralded by the Scribes and Pharisees of the day. In fact, the religious officials tried to hold off the changes that Jesus brought. Instead of a regal Scribe or Pharisee, Jesus announcement to the world came through John. John was the epitome of change. Instead of the plush attire of a religious official, John wore the clothing of the poor: a camel’s hair smock. John ate the food of the poor: locusts (bugs scrounged in the forest) and wild honey to dull the taste. What a sight John must have been a very odd sight, indeed…change usually is! Horrible breath, breathing the good news of God’s change leading to peace. An image of peace: where wolves and lambs live together. An image of peace: where the leopard and kid are in friendship. An image of peace: where the calf is safe with the lion. An image of peace: where a little child shall lead them…to peace.  

Yet…do we truly want the change that God is birthing? I wonder if we might be vulnerable enough to create space for God’s change. For, if we actually believed the truths that lie deep beneath the texts before us, perhaps we might open space to receive the gift of God’s change. In the birth story, the world did not prepare room for Him to be born. I wonder if we might be brave enough to prepare room for God’s change; I wonder if we might be wise enough to welcome God’s change; I wonder if we might be trusting enough to welcome God’s change?  

Here at the church, we are ponder how God is calling us to be a changing church. It is exciting to see the deep thinking that people are having as they add their comments to the bulletin board: how we might renew and refresh our building to be “a building to serve all”; how we might be enhance and broaden our ministry staffing that we might we “a ministry to serve all.” As you can see in your leaflets, there continue to be stickies there for your to record your thoughts, dreams and visions. Please record your thoughts, call or email them in, and help the team in building a comprehensive ministry plan for the future.  

And on a personal level, we also are pondering preparing how God will birth change in our lives and in the world. Where might your life be a little too closed to let God’s birth arrive? Could you open your life (a little) and welcome God’s birth? Where might our community be a little too closed to let God’s birth arrive? Could we help in opening our community (a little) and welcome God’s birth? Where might our world be a little too closed to let God’s birth arrive? Could we help in opening our world (a little) and welcome God’s birth? Could God’s birth of arrive?