(4) For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
(5) May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,
(6) so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(7) Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
(8) For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
(9) and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”;
(10) and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
(11) and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”;
(12) and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
(13) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(1) A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
(2) 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. 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.
(5) Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
(6) The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
(7)The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
(8) The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
(9) They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
(10) On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
A Sermon for World AIDS Day
Now, I’m aware that AIDS wasn’t on Isaiah’s mind when he uttered these words of prophecy in the 8th century BCE. But I wouldn’t put it past God to orchestrate an Advent lectionary in which Isaiah can speak as powerfully to us in the week of World AIDS Day as he did then to a people facing division and war.
World AIDS Day is often a time for lifting up alarming or depressing statistics, and this year was no exception. 33 million people infected with HIV worldwide. Over 29,000 people known to be infected in Maryland, with the Baltimore-Towson having the fourth highest rate of reported AIDS cases of any metropolitan area in the US. And our church’s zip code still has the highest numbers of current and new infections in this area. Add to that the fact that an estimated 21% of all those infected don’t know their status, and that as of Dec. 3rd, 4,369 people in nine states have been put on waiting lists to receive AIDS drugs because state assistance programs are running out of funds.
We need leaders who are willing to reach across barriers of race and class and age and theology and sexual orientation. Because AIDS does. All the time.
But it is into this darkness and into these statistics that Isaiah speaks a two-pronged message of hope, or as one pastor put it, presents us with a hinged pair of paintings.
On the first canvas is the portrait of a leader full of the Spirit of the Lord, a spirit of wisdom and understanding. Given all the stigma and misinformation that still surrounds HIV, leaders with wisdom and understanding are sorely needed.
I think about all the damage that was done in South Africa when their president Thabo Mbeki questioned the link between the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and AIDS. And I think about all the damage that happens more surreptitiously and more commonly when we fail to use our influence and opportunities to become informed, educate others, reach out to those who are on the margins, and encourage all people who are sexually active to be tested routinely.
The leader that Isaiah envisions is both an example to others and a person of deep faith. He fights the battle against evil with the breath of his lips and the rod of his mouth. He breaks the silence, and speaks truth to power.
The leader that Isaiah envisions has powers of discernment crucial for fighting AIDS. This leader would be able to separate the facts from the myths. She would be able to weigh the statistics about which groups are most affected against the reality that all are at risk. This leader would be able to maintain confidentiality when requested, while working to create environments where it is safe to disclose one’s status. And she would be able to emphasize the responsibility we have for our actions while acknowledging and working to end the inequalities, ignorance, and outside circumstances that can impact our ability to make good choices.
All the stereotypes and suspicions took a back seat to the task at hand and to the real live human beings and personalities that suddenly found themselves face to face.
Many scholars think that Isaiah was setting his hope on a rising star in Judah, the soon-to-be King Hezekiah. Others detect a shift towards a larger, more messianic hope, and many Christians accordingly see Jesus as the embodiment of this leader. But seeing Christ in this portrait of a longed-for leader does not mean that we have to abandon all hope for earthly leaders who will follow his example. In fact, as Christians—we have a mandate to be the body of Christ in the world—to use our voices to educate, welcome, and care for one another, and to live as though the walls of hostility between us really have been broken down.
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