Opening The Old Testament
The Hope of Peace: Advent Reflections on Isaiah 11:1-9
How will we see these attributes at work? "He will not judge by what his eyes see, nor decide by what his ears hear." In other words, he will not make his judgments based on outward appearances only; if one is rich and well-spoken, he/she will have no advantage over one who is poor and mute, because "with righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth" (verse 4ab). His weapons against oppressors will not be sword and shield, but "the rod of his mouth" and "the breath of his lips" (verse 4cd). "Righteousness" and "faithfulness" he will wear around him like a belt (verse 5). Isaiah aches for a psalmic king, one who will live the life described by Israel's prophets from Amos to Ezekiel, but has rarely if ever been crowned. When a king like that shows up, then, and only then, can we have peace in our world.
So, according to Isaiah, that is the sort of king we await. No sentimental, greeting card baby, leading a crowd of frolicking beasts though a green meadow. We wait a doer of justice, a purveyor of righteousness for those who have very little of either, making our world unfair at its base, unequal in its distribution of goods, a world where two billion of its people try to live on less than a dollar a day. In short, our world awaits this king, too.
That little child of verse 6 who leads the former eaters and the formerly eaten, that nursing child of verse 8 who is idly playing around the hole of a poisonous snake, that weaned child who is absently sticking its tiny hand into the home of the most deadly serpent, is precisely the one we anticipate this and every Christmas. For a child who can live and thrive among the most dangerous of creatures can also become a man who can live his life solely in justice and righteousness, dedicated to those who live their lives on the margins, who find themselves on the outside of the potential goodness of life. Only when that king shows up will "the earth be full of the knowledge of YHWH just like the waters cover all the world's seas" (verse 9).
Isaiah was surely right; we desperately need that king, and we need him now. With Isaiah's amazing portrait in hand, perhaps this Christmas the baby messiah may look rather less like a baby and more like an Isaianic king. Maybe.
Read Alyce McKenzie's New Testament reflection for this week here.
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John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.