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The Asp

Isaiah 11:1-10

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12

Advent 2

December 3, 2022

The Asp

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A few years ago, Pastor Diane and I were at a Clergy Couple retreat where one of the activities was bringing in a professor from the seminary to talk about Advent and help us out in our prep so that the burden from this season would be lessened and we could, at least in theory, spend more time as a family. The professor said he wasn't going to talk about the gospel which was a little disconcerting. The gospel texts are what I know the best, but I am pretty decent preacher and theologian...I can handle a little bit of challenge. Instead, he announced that he would talk about Isaiah. Okay. Great. I can handle this. Prophet. I know a little bit about the prophet. I got this. Okay, hit me with exegetical study notes: Text criticism, info about the historical time period, the Hebrew Nuances—the stuff that I normally latch onto when preaching and writing a sermon. He then announced that he would do none of that. He says that we will look at each text through a different activity such as writing, art, listening. At this point I am actively trying to escape from this and my wife is squeezing my leg with some really sharp nails forcing me to stay.

So, he goes through week 1 of Advent and I survived. We had to do some creative writing which I am pretty good at—it didn’t hurt that bad. Then, he hands out play-dough and says, "Listen to the words of Isaiah and I want you to focus on something from the text and then sculpt that imagery with the play-dough.

Yeah, not sure how many of you know this but I am not very artistic. I took a ceramics class in college. Ceramics for non-art majors. I hated that class. I was covered in head to toe in clay every week. The first week of class, I came directly from my desk job at the hospital. All my nice clothes were ruined. Ask the kids how the craft time went last week on Wednesday night... You give me some 2x4s, some screws, and a few other tools and I can build you almost anything (I can't promise you it will look good, but you will probably be able to stand on it and it won't fall down). You give me a craft and tell me to be creative and I will probably end up gluing my self to something or someone, and most certainly be covered from head to toe in paint and glitter. Now, what in the world am I going to create with a small thing of play-dough?

Dr. Voelz reads the text for us and typically when I need to preach, I go for what sounds familiar:

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,

and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

How many of you hear in your heads (sing):

O come, O Branch of Jesse's stem,

unto your own and rescue them!

I can picture this part of the text very easily. I can sing it even. And then in verse two and three, we hear what many Christians call the "Gifts of the Holy Spirit":

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.

3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

I know what the prophet is saying. I can picture it. I can sing it. I have heard these things talked about before. This is an easy sermon for me to whip together.

And then it’s even better in the following verses 3b-5:

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,

or decide by what his ears hear;

4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,

and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,

and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

All we need is some “eye of the tiger” music in the background and we would be set, right? God will one day strike the earth and seek vengeance on our behalf. This passage makes us feel good inside. We all revel in this sort of thing. A rags to riches stories. But I had no idea how to sculpt any of this. I can preach it with no problem. How do you sculpt it?

Instead, my attention was drawn to the latter half of this pericope. There is one word that stood out to me. Asp. I had no idea what an asp was so I do what every millennial does...I googled it. An Asp is a snake. The light bulb went off in my head...anyone can make a snake from play doh.

My brothers and sisters, this silly little activity did something for me. I typically would have glossed over this part of the passage and instead focused on where I felt most comfortable. Yet here, because of this activity, I was challenged to look for something I could sculpt and I got to experience a part of scripture that I had never notice.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid." Have any of you ever witness something like this? I haven't. A baby calf and a Lion living in harmony. And a little child leading them all. Can you visualize something like this? A cow and bear gazing in the same field. A lion turning down a delicious dinner of caribou for a bowl of salad. A child playing with a wild snake and the mother is okay with it. Listen y'all, I let Thomas and Isaiah play with a lot of things. I even let him play with my electric trains—they are only 12 volts…it can’t kill them. I would never hand my son a wild snake and say, "have fun."

This image that the prophet is describing is so very foreign to our very existence. It would seem none of this is ever going to be possible. Lions eating straw, children playing with wild snakes, lambs and wolves dwelling together. It is impossible to think any of this is possible, yet the prophet says one day, this will be our reality and because this is scripture and just some idle tale. The world—you and I—in this new reality, will only know peace in this new reality that God is ushering in.

One day the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord just like the sea is made of water. One day, this new reality will take hold in our lives and we will have nothing to fear any longer. That is certainly both really good news and really bad news. It is really good to have because it gives us something to hope for, bad news for us stuck in the mean time. How long must we live in this current reality?

So, what in this text is speaking to you this day? What do you feel like sculpting?

Are you all about the season of Advent? Are you all about the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

Or are you all about seeking vengeance, recompense, seeing the evil thrown down and the lowly lifted up? Are you all about the impossible being made possible? Or are you already in the mindset of Christmas and the little baby leading his people? Or are you a hopeless artist like stuck dealing with a bunch of snakes both real and made out of play-dough? My friends in Christ, God likes hopeless causes. No matter where you fall on this spectrum this day, may you realize that you are witnesses to the new era God has been crafting for over millennia. And you, like the lions, the lambs, the bears and the snakes will one day be transformed and brought into this reality where we know only peace which comes from God.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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