By Rev. Joan Kessler
Isaiah 11: 1-10
The other week, I found this pin I am wearing today. It’s from the Beads of Hope campaign that the United Church launched some twenty plus years ago. The hand beaded pins with the iconic red ribbon represent hope for the AIDS epidemic to one day come to an end. Since 1981 when AIDS was first discovered, some 50 million men, women and children have contracted the virus and/or died. I put my pin on to commemorate World AIDS Day this past Thursday, December 1. It serves as a reminder that this epidemic has not been eradicated.
I did not see or hear any mention of this commemorative day this year…I had to go looking for how World AIDS Day 2022 was being observed and on the UN AIDS website, I learned the slogan for this year’s campaign was Equalize. We are being called to address the inequalities that are holding back progress in ending AIDS. The UNAIDS website identified the ongoing need to improve access and suitability of treatments for AIDS patients so everyone is equally and well-served; a reform of laws, policies, and practices to tackle the continued stigmatization of AIDS patients, particularly in marginalized populations so that they are welcomed and included in their communities; the sharing of technology and medical research between communities of the Global South and North; and lastly the ability to use the Equalize slogan to highlight new and ongoing inequalities and give communities a voice and platform to address them.
The ongoing research and support of people living with AIDS is but one example we in the western world are invited to consider and take action against. We entrust social change to social media to get the world’s attention and invoke a movement. And for some causes this has perhaps been the case and successes have been delivered to various causes. I am not much of a social media advocate. I wonder about the power we give to social media as an agent for social change. How effective are clever slogans and hashtags in the long haul of addressing public health and wellbeing issues such as AIDS?
During the season of Advent, we go into the Old Testament to hear ancient words of prophecy and promise – of hope for the future, a new world order. In the early chapters of Isaiah, the exile is underway; the Israelites have been plundered by the Assyrians. And from Isaiah’s mouth come a pronouncement of a messianic vision, that out of the stump of Jesse, will come an ideal ruler, one not seen since the rule of King David. And upon this leader will be the spirit of God who would bring peace and restoration to a society that would be marked by justice, equality, peace for all global citizens.
Isiah’s vision gives us not just a political theology of the qualities of leadership that are longed for. We also are provided an eco-theology this morning. We hear of this vision of predator and prey living in harmony together. The wolf alongside the lamb, the leopard with the kid, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, the calf and the fatling together. And a little child shall lead them. These ancient words from this text this morning create a picture of God’s shalom, of what Peace looks like and how it is to experienced.
This vision turns the tables completely over on what the Israelites understood their present circumstances to mean and I believe does so still today. We live in a world ordered by human will – the dictatorships of Putin, of China, the rise of antisemitism from the likes of celebrity Kanye West. The world is in a bit of a mess it seems, and we are ever being pulled further apart from one another rather than closer together. Isaiah’s vision invites us into a wild possibility of tiny buds of hope and animals finding harmony together on God’s holy mountain and we see this new world through the eyes of a child. What does a child’s vision of peace speak to us this day? Ask the children in your midst what is peace to them and together live into their answers.
The notion of a Utopian society makes for good reading and classic novels, but it is but a dream, an idealistic vision. We know that life can never be perfect, free of pain or suffering. A utopian society ignores all tensions as simply illusions to be dismissed, or imperfections to be stamped out. Would we really want to live in such a place? This is a question worth pondering this second week of Advent.
Isaiah rejects this ideal entirely. Tensions, according to the prophet, are what are necessary to achieve the balance of perfect harmony that God desires. In Isaiah’s vision, everyone in society is entirely dependent on the divine will for goodness, justice, equality, and peace. This is not an exclusive Christian statement that presupposes church hierarchies or doctrinal ways of teaching for some and not others, but rather is a vision for the whole of creation.
We hear these words of forthcoming leadership, out of the stump of Jesse, and we image Jesus being that presence. Jesus wasn’t a political leader as those of his time had hoped him to be. But they did see him as the one who would deliver them from the bondage and oppression history had placed upon them, that Jesus would bring about this vision of all creation, in spite of its imperfections, coming together in perfect harmony. But we cannot lose sight of all WUC moments in the past year that we have experienced harmony together. These are what we continue to build on for our future.
May the peace of Immanuel, God With Us, be with you this day and always, Amen.