The Carrot, without the Stick

advent-1

The Pas Advent 1
Year C
1 December 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122 pg 882
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

God of peace,
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and put on the armour of light;
so that on the last day,
when your Son Jesus shall come again
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to eternal life;
through him who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
__________________________________

Looking at the reading for today, I find Isaiah’s words interesting. I find them interesting in the way that much of humanity lives their lives today thinking that Christianity is flawed, and it is, but it’s still in need of their skills, all the same.

In his own words, Isaiah tells us that this vision will be a hallmark of “the last days.” (Isa 2:2a)

In addition, at first glance, this passage looks like an excellent argument for the theory of ‘trickle down economics’ that our society, our world, has adopted as ‘the way to do business. So, if it’s good for business, then it must be good for other aspects of our lives, as well, I’m guessing.

So this ‘trickle down’ idea tells us that all of the benefits, all of the teachings, and all of the wisdom trickle down from the top, from above, from the mountain top, in this regard, and are meant to work its way through everyone participating in this system.

“3 Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isa 2:3)

So, in today’s words of prophecy we’d be right about the hallmark of the end of days, but wrong about this notion that anything will trickle down to where it’s needed, where it will be able to make a difference in the world in our lives.

After all, last week we celebrated Christ the King, as we revisited the scene of the crucifixion and all that God has happening in that occasion.

As we once more visit the ‘ground zero’ of God’s redemptive action in our lives of faith, our lives as Christians.

And from the foot of the cross, we came away with Jesus’ words of encouragement to the thief at his side. We come away with his request to God to forgive the ignorance and the actions of those in authority who put him on the cross, and then ridiculed him for being there where they were able to see, but failed to recognize, God’s salvific action at work.

And yet, this is the most significant action God does, breaking forever the bonds of sin, death, and this ‘trickle down’ mentality of salvation.

Just think about it, for a minute.

Using the idea of ‘trickle down methods’ means it would go through the upper echelon of society, of the systems of faith, toward us at the bottom, and those even lower in society. As it goes through, like water through our salad greens to wash away anything left behind in the packaging, it leaves behind those ‘drenched’ in God’s wisdom and salvation.

In this way, its meant to continue on through society, leaving behind the blessing of God’s love at each level until even the bottom layers are ‘moistened’ with it, and so are encouraged to move higher toward the source of God’s spring of love, forgiveness, mercy, wisdom and so on, receiving more as they climb that ‘ladder.’

So, we can see, then, that such a ‘trickle down’ emphasis is not from the divine. It’s not anything at all having do to with God, but rather a way to enforce human stratification of society – forever separating ‘the have’s from ‘the have nots,’ in the world all around us.

On the other hand, last week, we saw as Jesus welcomes the repentant thief into paradise, as he dies on the cross for you and for me.

And if we look at Jesus pattern of teaching, he didn’t book lecture halls and charge admittance to hear him speak, like we see with lectures, today.

Instead, Jesus spoke to all who came to hear him speak, whether that’s on mountain tops, or on plains, on streets, or in byways, on fields, on roadways, in dining rooms, in peoples living rooms, and in reception halls.

Jesus doesn’t adhere to any human manufactured system of stratification of society or dissemination of information like a ‘trickle down’ ideology.

He didn’t look for ways to speak one message to the wealthy, and another to the disenfranchised.

He’s not distributing this benefit of salvation to that group, but no this one.

There’s no carrot and stick. There’s only carrot.

But we have to want that carrot.

Isaiah tells us “2 In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
3 Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isa 2:2-3)

And we can see this happening in the world today with all three of the major monotheistic religions seeing and acknowledging Jerusalem as “the mountain of the Lord” (Isa 2:3a)

But are we ready, yet for the rest of what Isaiah has to say, today?

Sure, we’re acknowledging Jerusalem, the site of the temple as the location that Isaiah talks about, today, but Isaiah and God don’t stop there.

From there, yes, Isaiah describes God’s love and mercy, but also God’s judgement, and this can bring us back to Jesus words from the cross, last week, once again.

Isaiah tells us “4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.” (Isa 2:4a)

Isaiah is telling us that this ‘trickle down’ model just doesn’t work, not for faith, and not for any other aspect of life, either. Faith isn’t to be dispensed from the top down, and those at the bottom are not dependent upon those above for dribbles of what it is they no longer want/need/are able to use.

Instead, Isaiah tells us: “all nations will stream to [the mountain of the Lord’s temple].
3 Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.” (Isa 2:2a, 2c, 3a)

And God’s message, the Lords’ message isn’t a trickle down phenomena, rather it’s an equally accessible deluge of God’s love and teachings to all of humanity.

Today we look to the coming of Christ.

We look to the coming of our Lord and Saviour. What we really don’t want to look for, nor find, is God’s judgement on our lives, on our decisions, on each of us.

Rather this is what comes, and God’s message brings peace to all who hear it, no matter the background. “4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isa 2:4)

And isn’t this what the average person wants, to live life in peace, and in harmony, loving our neighbours as we are loved by our neighbours?

So, when we look to Isaiah’s words, today, we find the words of hope, we find the words of God’s love. We find that it’s in peace that we are able to come to God, and move forward together.

It’s in the love and peace of God, and even in the words that hint to the second coming, that we’re able to set aside the first and second observations that we started with and are able to fully immerse ourselves in the love of God for all of humanity.

Sure it may be the end of times, but all God has wanted is to spend time with us, and it’s we, its humanity that puts distance between God and us because we feel unworthy.

Moreover, as we’re able to see, this idea of trickling down just sets up patterns of injustice that doesn’t do anything other than contribute to the overall sense of greed and covetousness in the world around us.

Isaiah’s words, today, are interesting to us because they open our lives, our hearts to the words, the message, the love of God who comes into the world not to condemn, but to save. This is the carrot!

And we saw that level of salvation last week, when Jesus died on the cross for you, and for me, and for all who believe.

“17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:17)

And all of this clearly looks back at the words of Isaiah, at the images of the serpent raised in the wilderness, that Jesus refers to when he speaks to Nicodemus on the rooftop, in the darkness.

We are called out of the darkness into the light of the new sunrise, into the light of the kingdom of God, into the light of the Lord, because Isaiah’s last word for today is really the first word we hear when Isaiah says: “5 Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isa 2:5)

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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