Isaiah 11: 1-10, Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-21, Romans 15: 4-13, Matthew 3: 1-12
Back in 2005 I was fortunate enough to take a group of young people to Hiroshima, for a conference marking the 60th anniversary of the dreadful destruction caused by the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare. In that moment, 140,000 people died in a split second as they were vaporised in a flash of heat reaching 4000 degrees Celsius.
I remember as we walked through the city there was a small, insignificant plaque standing in front of an enormous tree. The plaque said the first green shoot appeared right there, just 3 days after the bomb wiped out the entire city. Three days – from death to the first signs of resurrection: the symbolism is impossible to ignore.
That green shoot grew into this tree; a tree of hope, a symbol of well-fought-for peace. A sign that nature would indeed be right back, and She would not be silenced forever. An indication that peace and hope will always eventually win.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; Isaiah prophesied; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.
A shoot will appear; a symbol of hope…and the prophecy goes on to say, its appearing will result in all good things – wisdom, knowledge and delight. Righteousness will flourish, there will be peace in abundance, and justice for the poor. Mountains laden with peace. Oppression crushed. Predators and their prey will live together. Children will play safely. And there will be rest.
And then John the Baptist tells us that Jesus is the one the prophet speaks of. And, through him, we will come to the day that is promised, when all these wonderful things will be restored, when the kingdom of heaven is fully and entirely established.
But we are not there yet, are we? We really aren’t.
And while there are signs of hope springing up like those wildflowers I spoke about last week…while there are glimpses of peace…and sometimes humanity does amaze us by doing some incredible acts of kindness…on the whole, this world still feels pretty broken, and we have to recognise that this is not what God intended God’s divine gift of creation to be. And the way humanity manages this gift is not what we were created for either.
And yet the prophecy remains. The promise was made. And God does not break them. So, it means it is still on its way, even when it is hard to imagine, impossible to see and difficult to believe. And, as people who are trying to follow Jesus – the root of Jesse, the hope of the nations – we have a role to play in spotting and nurturing those shoots as they appear.
It is God’s promise, not ours, and God will do all God needs to do to make it come to pass. It is not entirely down to us, but we are called and commissioned and entrusted to do all we can to partner with God – to be God’s hands and feet, here, where we are ‘planted’. To make Beaconsfield, Perth, WA, and beyond, a better place, in this generation.
So, the question is, what will we do to help to bring this about; to see hope, joy, and peace spring up around us? What can we do to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight? Maybe we can’t change the whole world, but we can do our bit to change that which we are dissatisfied with in our own streets, in our town. We can do something in order to see those tiny shoots spring up in places of destruction, like that tree in Hiroshima. And it is essential, imperative, that the Church is the one leading the way in that, because we follow the one who promises it’s not just possible; it’s on its way.
But our theme for this second Sunday in advent is peace. Yet these words from Matthew’s gospel don’t say a great deal about peace; repent, John says! There is wrath to come! The axe is at the root of the tree…every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire…there will be baptisms of fire…and unquenchable fire at that.
And yet, I keep returning to that shoot in the park in Japan. After so much destruction, such extreme temperatures, so much fire… a shoot appeared. And I wonder if sometimes the path to peace takes us through hard and testing times before we can see it. Sometimes the road to peace is hard-fought. Sometimes the way to peace involves uproar, hard work, self-examination, change.
Oftentimes, the concept of peace gets a bad rap – like its meek, passive, an absence of something – like a lack of conflict, a gap, rather than something fierce. But that little shoot said so much. It said ‘war thought it had won. Destruction seemed to be the end. But I’m here to say something different’.
And the shoot that comes out of the stump of Jesse – Jesus – says the same thing. Darkness threatened to win but I’m here to say something different – me and my kingdom, says the Lord, shall be glorious and peace will be abundant. And we will get there; the path to it might be strewn with rocks and stumbling blocks, but it’s not just possible – it’s on its way.
Today is the Sunday of peace. The day we commit again to being agents of peace – to taking up the weapons that lead to peace. But our weapons are different. They are the belts of righteousness and faithfulness. Our judgements are equitable and right. We rescue the child and the needy and crush the oppressor. Our language is love and right-speaking. Our actions bring blessing and hope and great rejoicing. And all that we do makes the paths straight for those who come after us who want to follow our Lord.
This advent every parish is being encouraged by our Archbishop to plant a tree, as a symbol of hope and peace and as a tangible commitment to caring for our planet. In the coming days we will be planting a eucalyptus tree in our gardens – a tree of peace. As we see it planted, may it be a reminder to us of our call to be agents of peace. May it remind us that sometimes the pathway to peace takes hard work and struggle but is always worth it. And as we see it shoot and grow, may we be reminded that peace will blossom until the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Amen.