Hearing the prophet: a sermon for the second Sunday of Advent

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Isaiah 11.1-10, Psalm 72.1-7, 18-21, Romans 15.4-13, Matthew 3.1-13

On August 28th this year the people of the United States celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, when Dr Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a huge gathering.

“I have a dream today,” he said.

… I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed … that all men are created equal. …

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

“Let freedom ring,” he said. That is the voice of the prophet.

The world is saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela. He said of himself, “I stand before you, not as a prophet, but as a humble servant.” Yet, he spoke with a prophet’s voice and brought forgiveness and reconciliation to his nation.

In today’s reading from Isaiah, the prophet speaks of a future King, descended from Jesse, the father of King David.

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.

This is not a divine king, but a man who would rule wisely under God’s guidance.

Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela each spoke to the political and social circumstances of their day, yet they also spoke for all time.

The prophecies we read from Isaiah were spoken to the political and social circumstances of ancient Israel. Yet today, Jews and Gentiles alike read this text as a prophecy of the Lord’s Messiah. From earliest time, we Christians have understood it to be about Jesus, the one who is Immanuel, God with us.

Read it all ….