Preaching Advent as the Return to Paradise
- Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Text: Isaiah 11
There is something about the past that attracts each one of us. Deep in every human heart is a desire to repeat some experiences from the past. There is a hope of recapturing the thrill, the excitement, the joy of days now long gone.
We decorate our homes with oil-burning lamps and candles, exactly like those that our parents and grandparents so eagerly cast aside when rural electrification came to their farm. We do not feel that we really have a cozy home unless there is a fireplace; exactly the kind of fireplace that so many generations stood before, extra warm on one side and chilled on the other. We remember that previous generations provided food for their table from some garden plot, and all of us must have some small plot on which we can grow something to eat.
We celebrate anniversaries and birthdays, not just because they are milestones for those who observe them, but because they bring to our memory days that are past. Just for a moment, in the celebration, we can remember and relive how it used to be. We can experience again that special joy.
That which is a common human yearning is also a deep religious truth. Deep within our human memory is a picture of that reality which no longer exists. Although none of us ever lived in Paradise, in Eden, we cannot escape the memory of that place. Because it cannot be forgotten, we long for it to come again.
There was a time and a place -- a time so long ago and a place so far removed -- that the people of the Bible called Eden, where life was surely different than it is for us.
It was a time of innocence. Adam and Eve could walk in the garden, in the company of each other and of God and feel no guilt, no embarrassment, even though they were not clothed.
It was a time of peace. There was no struggle between people and nations; no anger, no hatred, no animosity. There was no mistrust between the animals; and man had no fear of any beast.
It was a time of harmony. Each of the creatures, each part of creation, had a place. All worked together to accomplish the purposes and the goals of God.
Then Eden was lost. The Scriptures tell of that loss in the story of Adam and Eve and the Serpent and the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden. When the story ends, everything is different. Adam and Eve are ashamed of their humanness. The anger and enmity and mistrust between humans and humans, between humans and animals, reigns supreme.
Adam and Eve are removed from Paradise; it is lost forever. As far removed as we are from that innocence and peace and harmony--marred and damaged the picture may be -- a memory of Eden is still present in the background of our lives.
The words of the prophet Isaiah speak to that longing to recover what is now only a memory. The Living Bible paraphrases those verses:
"In that day the wolf and the lamb will lie down together, and the leopard and the goats will be at peace. Calves and fat cattle will be safe among lions, and a little child shall lead them all. The cows will graze among the bears; cubs and calves will lie down together, and lions will eat grass like the cows. Babies will crawl safely among poisonous snakes, and a little child who puts his hand in a nest of deadly adders will pull it out unharmed. Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mount, for as the waters fill the sea, so shall the earth be full of the knowledge of the Lord." (Isaiah 11:6-9)
What a different world that is from ours! What a glorious hope those words present! What a magnificent dream are those prophetic words!
The prophet tells us that it shall become a reality. It shall occur when a shoot springs up from that chopped-down tree that is the house of David the King. A new branch will appear from the roots of that stump, and it shall mark the beginning of the new age.
Isaiah lived in a century when it was clearly evident to men of vision and to men of God that David's dynasty was passing. It would never recover from its sickness unto death. The glory of King David had lived on for a time in his son, Solomon. The nation prospered as never before. But the old enmities, the old hatreds, the old angers and mistrusts surfaced among David's grandsons.
The people and the nation were split asunder. The Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah lasted for nearly two hundred years. During that time they warred against one another, brother against brother. They sniped across their borders. They made treaties and broke them.
Then the lashing punishment of God came from the East in the form of the Assyrian armies. The Northern Kingdom was swept away in the tides of history and the vengeance of God. The ungodly armies from the East swept through the countryside. It came to the very gates of the City of God. The troops looked upon the Holy City and the Temple as well with vengeance and destruction burning in their hearts and their eyes.
Any person of vision, any person of God, could see and know that the future of that tree which was the house and the lineage of David was doomed. It would soon be cut down. The prophet spoke for God and about God's plan when he saw that a branch would come forth. It was a branch which would change the old nature of that tree, and with it would come a new age to mankind.
Is it any wonder that those followers of Jesus of Nazareth, realizing the meaning and impact of His life and ministry, saw Him as that branch? Jesus' roots were deep in the soil of Judaism. But the leaves on His tree were so different. The fruit on His tree bore such little resemblance to that old fruit. To those disciples it was clear that Jesus, born in a manger and dying on a hillside, was a banner to all the world that Paradise was reborn and reestablished.
The new age occurred when the knowledge of God and the obedience to God was reborn in that One Man. But, even more it came with power as it was reborn not just in His heart, but in the hearts of all who followed Him.
Jesus, that new branch, was one whose total being was filled with wisdom and understanding. He knew how to live in the presence of God. He understood the will and the ways of God as had no man. Jesus, that new branch, was one whose total being was filled with counsel and might. He knew how to live before others with power, the very power of God.
He was able to withstand the force of evil and the powers of destruction and death. He could offer advice to all in words that made sense to them. Jesus, that new branch, was one whose total being was filled with knowledge and fear of the Lord. He overflowed with a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord of creation, with the God of Eden. That Galilean could walk with God, talk with God, commune with God. Even more, He could teach others how to do the same.
No wonder that Christmas is so marvelous. No wonder that Advent is such an important group of Sundays for us. We are getting ready for the One who brings a new world. We are preparing for the One who recreates the old Paradise for all of us. When He is finished, when He is done with us, He has created in us a new innocence, a new peace, a new harmony.
His work accomplished, we are able to truly proclaim, "The Old has passed away, the New has come." That new is a new world of peace. That new is a new world of innocence. That new is a new world of harmony. That new is the New Age, Eden Returned, in which we can again live for and with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. That new age is indeed a return to Paradise.
"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end." Amen and Amen.
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This article originally appeared at Preaching.com. Used with Permission.
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