Last week, Jesus gave us the first of our Advent reality checks. “In the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…. Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” He forcefully refocused our minds. He challenged us to turn our eyes away from twinkling Christmas lights, from the soothing sounds of Bing Crosby and the can’t-miss deals of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
This week, our reality check comes from Isaiah. And it’s about Jesus. So much about Christmas and Advent focuses on the baby Jesus. And that’s not wrong. But we’re tempted to just “ooh” and “aah” at the beautiful boy snoozing away in a manger. We’re tempted to tear up as we ask Mary if she realizes that every time she kisses her baby she kisses the face of God. We’re tempted to think of Jesus only as cute, cuddly, and mild, the gentle, humble, pacifist who would never hurt a fly. That’s why John the Baptist preached the way He did. What did He say about Jesus? “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
We don’t often think in those terms about Jesus. We think in terms of love and peace. And that’s dangerous. We’ve seen where that takes us. “Jesus loves you” excuses any and all abuses of God’s Word and sinful behaviors. “How could a loving God do or say this?” we hear. We say. “Jesus would never condemn this or that,” we hear. We say. “Hell can’t possibly be this or that…” we hear. We say.
Reality check. Isaiah says: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD – and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.” This describes someone completely and totally attuned to the Divine wavelength, not public opinion polls or your feelings. That makes sense, Jesus being the fullness of the Deity and all that.
Like no other person in history, the Spirit of the LORD rests upon this newborn child. The Spirit anoints Him and holds nothing back. He fills Jesus with Divine discernment, wisdom, skill, ability, good sense, knowledge, intuition, and capacity to understand and implement. By nature. Unlike you, who were born without the Spirit and so could not understand the things that come from the Spirit of God (let alone things of this earth). Still sometimes you can’t. That never happened to Christ. He gets God. Not to mention Jesus’ whole decision making process. He stands as the greatest strategic thinker and tactician of all time. He accomplishes what He desires. Jesus makes Solomon look dumber than dumb, because He’s not guessing. And He’s not off base, because He fears the LORD and He delights in it. As Jesus said, “I always do what pleases Him,” that is, the Father.
Can you say that? And because Jesus can, what John described the Father assigns to Him, the winnowing, the judging. Isaiah says: “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”
Again, this is in line with John’s words. Jesus comes with fire and the Spirit. He comes to cleanse, to winnow, to divide, even to destroy. His fights with the rod of His mouth and the breath of His lips, in other words, even though He can call down fire from heaven whenever He wants, or legions of angels, He uses His words, words which put to death or bring to life, that separate, that gather that burn.
And He in no way hesitates to act. “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.” Not “He might,” but “He will.” And whatever He does is right, because He wears righteousness and faithfulness at all times.
This righteous and faithful one shows no favoritism at all. He doesn’t believe what’s before His eyes or what comes to His ears. Consider Adam and Eve’s pathetic attempts to get around God in Eden.
“Did you eat the fruit?”
“The woman gave me some.”
“How could you do this?”
“The snake tricked me.”
Such sniveling didn’t work then and won’t work now. Jesus doesn’t want to hear all your pathetic excuses for not listening, not hearing, and not obeying.
And His judgments are always right. Always. Christ rights all perversions of justice. Christ roots out all sins. He sets the standard for righteousness and keeps holiness. He does all things well and fairly. Ignore the Root of Jesse, this humble Branch, at your peril, to your damnation. That’s Isaiah’s reality check.
Some have then concluded, “Forget this noise! If that’s the case, I’m just going to go my own way.” A grave mistake. This Jesus whose birth we celebrate is all the things Isaiah says about Him. He is the God of Law, Righteousness, and Justice. He is the God whom we cannot escape. He will come and He will strike down. He will separate the garbage from the good wheat. But, do you remember what else John the Baptist was able to say about Jesus? “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” He also gathers. Isaiah said: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.”
God the Father dealt a devastating reality check to Adam and Eve. He came to them in Eden and He saw right through their fig leaves to their wretched depravity. He demolished their lies. He rebuked their disloyalty to each other. He does the same to us. He sees through all the smoke you blow to excuse your crummy behavior. You can snow mom and dad, pastors and teachers, bosses and spouses, but not God.
But at the same moment as the LORD God laid Adam and Eve low, He also raised them up. The sheer act of speaking, rather than simply destroying offered hope. The curse leveled on the serpent, the promise of crushing the serpent’s head, guaranteeing that God is the Devil’s fiercest foe gave hope. Hope that God would help and save.
Thus comes the Root and Branch of Jesse. He calls a spade a spade. He holds back nothing as He condemns you. And He held back nothing as He takes your condemnation upon Himself. He stands as a sign, a banner, a flag waving proudly in the manger, saying, “A Savior has been born to you!” He stands as a sign, a banner, a flag waving proudly in the desert saying, “Repent and believe the Good News!” He stands as a sign, a banner, a flag, waving proudly, saying, “It is finished, I have confirmed all the promises made to the patriarchs! I came to serve, to give My life as a ransom for your life!” He is, as Isaiah said in chapter 9, the Prince of Peace. He bends all His Spirit given gifts towards that goal. He took upon Himself the punishment that brought us peace. He was righteous and faithful where you couldn’t be.
This is your Advent reality check about Christ. He does not blow off sin. He does not condone. He doesn’t stand before God and say, “Well, now, Dad, don’t get mad, but….” He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. On your behalf. Hold on to this Branch. Wave this flag. And know that because of this Christ, your place of rest will be glorious too. Amen.