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A Dwelling Glorious

Isaiah 11:1-10 NRSV

11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

11:2 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.

11:3 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;

11:4 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.

11:5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

11:6 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.

11:7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

11:8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

11:9 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.

11:10 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.

The Kingfish

In 1928, Huey P. Long became governor of the state of Louisiana. The former Railroad Commissioner, Huey Long, known as the Kingfish, changed the face of campaigning forever by driving over 15,000 miles over the back roads, most unpaved, of Louisiana. Poor, working class Louisianans had never seen a political candidate face-to-face. Huey’s band would warm up the crowd, then Huey would take to the platform like a man possessed. Some thought he was, but the working people of Louisiana loved it. They loved it even more when Huey announced his “Every Man A King” campaign and wrote a really bad song to go with it. The slogan of “Every Man A King” was “Share Our Wealth” and Huey P. Long played the role of the benevolent head of state, guaranteeing that in 1928, there was plenty to go around if the corrupt politicians, the big business interests, the newspapers, and his opponents would just let go of some it and share.

Huey Long’s life and campaign is characterized by a famous speech he made at St. Martinville, La. under the Evangeline Oak, the tree Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized in his poem, Evangeline. The poem is about a young woman, Evangeline, who waits under the shade of the oak tree for the love of her life, who never comes. Here’s what Huey told the crowd gathered there that day:

“…It is here under this oak where Evangeline waited for her lover, Gabriel, who never came. This oak is an immortal spot, made so by Longfellow’s poem, but Evangeline is not the only one who has waited here in disappointment.

Where are the schools that you have waited for your children to have, that have never come?

Where are the roads and the highways that you send your money to build, that are no nearer now than ever before?

Where are the institutions to care for the sick and disabled?

Evangeline wept bitter tears in her disappointment, but it lasted only through one lifetime. Your tears in this country, around this oak, have lasted for generations. Give me the chance to dry the eyes of those who still weep here.”

Poweful rhetoric with an obvious appeal to the Bible and the book of Revelation where God promises to dry every tear from their eyes. Huey’s audience knew the Bible, if they didn’t know any other book, and Huey looked like Louisiana’s messiah to them. He was elected governor in a landslide, garnering more votes than any candidate before him.  Not enough to win the election outright, but the next closest candidate refused to run against Huey in a run-off election, and so he took office.

After his term as governor ended, Huey ran for the US Senate and was overwhelmingly elected. While running the state government from Washington, Huey found a national platform in the US Senate. He was the Kingfish. Huey got his nickname from the Amos ‘n Andy radio show, popular at the time. When he was elected to the US Senate, Huey got to Washington and according to the website dedicated to preserving Huey’s legacy, he said,

“I’m a small fish here in Washington, but I’m ‘the Kingfish’ to the folks down in Louisiana.”

We’ll leave Huey’s legacy for historians and politicians to sort out. But here’s one story about Huey from a man who grew up to be head of the AFL-CIO in Louisiana —

I was born very poor with a brother and five sisters. My mother and father struggled to send us to school because of the high cost of school books. There finally came a time when they could no longer afford to buy books for 7 children. We children were told that we could no longer attend school.

That very same year, Governor Long persuaded the Louisiana Legislature to fund school books for all children attending public schools. Not only did that mean that my brother and sisters and I could finish our education but also thousands of other children could as well. My family never forgot Huey Long and became long time political supporters of the Long family.”

Victor Bussie, President Emeritus, Louisiana AFL-CIO

But, some thought Huey P. Long was a crook. While governor, Long instituted a plan to deduct a little from each state employee’s paycheck for his campaign warchest. This money was kept by Long in what was called “the deduct box” which mysteriously disappeared when Huey Long, at the age of 42, was shot and killed by an assassin.

Others thought Huey P. Long was a messiah. His body lay in state at the highrise state office building Huey built in Baton Rouge. Over 150,000 people filed by Huey’s casket to pay their last respects. Huey’s legacy lives on, and everytime the LSU football team takes the field, and the band plays “Touchdown for Louisiana” they’re playing the fight song that Huey P. Long wrote.

The Messiah In Isaiah’s Day

Just like the people in Louisiana in the 1920s, the nation of Judah in Isaiah’s time was looking for a messiah. They were in deep trouble. Political and military alliances they formed with the Assyrians had backfired. The nation was in disarray, and they needed a strong leader. Talk on the streets was of the legend of David, God’s anointed, the best king God’s people ever had.

And so Isaiah delivers the words of God one day. In chapter 9, Isaiah paints the familiar portrait of the coming king with these words,

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, [b] Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

This famous portrait of the coming king would encourage Judah, and still encourages us today. And the best part for the nation of Judah, the king — the messiah — would reign on David’s throne. David loomed over Jewish history like no other figure, except maybe Moses or Abraham. But if Abraham was the father of the Jews, and Moses the law-giver, David was always the shepherd-king. The boy whom God chose to stand between God and his people, to shepherd them with love, while leading them in righteousness. There was nobody like David, and many thought that the nation had no hope unless someone — like a David — came along.

A Leader Falls, A Nation Mourns

After we moved back to Nashville in 1992, I worked for the Greater Nashville Arts Foundation. The foundation had a gift shop and gallery, and often we would invite local artists to exhibit their work. One of the most interesting people I met while working there was a former Life magazine photographer, Ed Clark. Ed had photographed John and Jacqueline Kennedy, Gene Kelly on the set of Singing in the Rain, Hermann Goering at the Nuremburg trials, and Clark was the only photographer allowed in the Oval Office on Dwight Eisenhower’s last day as president.

But Ed’s most famous photograph was taken in April, 1945. He was among 50 other photographers at The Little Whitehouse in Warm Springs, GA that day, trying to get a photograph of the casket of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had just died. They were loading the casket into the railroad car that would take Roosevelt’s body back to Washington, when Ed Clark heard an accordion playing one of Roosevelt’s favorite hymns, Going Home.

Clark turned to see a black man, Navy bandsman Graham Jackson, playing that mournful tune while tears streamed down his face. Quickly, Clark wheeled, snapped off four frames, and turned back hoping none of the other photographers had seen Jackson. None had and on April 17, 1945, Ed Clark’s black-and-white photograph of Graham Jackson’s tear-streaked face filled a full page in Life magazine. The photograph became the image of a nation in mourning.   In the same way the poor reverred Huey Long, a struggling people had placed their hope in FDR, and at his death grief was both national and personal.

The Messiah Among the People of God

But, Jurgen Moltmann says, “There is more in the new messianic David then there ever was in the historical David of old. So to transform the image of the king into the image of the messiah is not to idealize the past. The transformation is not designed to rouse nostalgia. On the contrary, it mobilizes the people to set forward afresh, hoping in God.”

In other words, God isn’t bringing back David for old home week, God is bringing this son of David, and by extension the chosen of God, to pull the nation forward. To give them hope for the future. To bring them to the place of obedience and witness.

A typical kingship in that day, and in ours, consists of judging and fighting battles. But a kingship in God’s name, empowered by his Spirit, means defending the rights of the poor, having compassion on the humble, and liberating the oppressed.

Moltmann goes on to say, “The messianic hope was never the hope of the victors and the rulers. It was always the hope of the defeated and the ground down. The hope of the poor is nothing other than the messianic hope.”

So, this Messiah, this king like David, comes not as a triumphalist, not as a military victor, not as a conqueror, but as one who judges not by the outward appearance, but by the inward. As one who sees with the eyes of God, as one who rules in concert with God, faithful to the covenant of God.

What Should We Expect from This Messiah?

Until about six weeks ago, here’s how Debbie and I spent many evenings at home:

  • Dinner about 5:30 or so, then clean up the kitchen in time to watch the evening news.
  • Comments about the evening news — “That’s awful” or “how sad” or “That makes me so mad”
  • After the evening news, searching for something to watch. Try ESPN. Try CNN. Try Discovery. Click to the weather channel. If you’re really desperate, try Fox. Okay, HGTV.
  • Two hours later, turn off the TV with the comment, “There’s nothing on.”

So, about six weeks ago, we tried an experiment. We unplugged our TV in the den, carted it upstairs and stashed it behind the sofa in our bedroom. No TV. Well, almost no TV — we kept the 13-inch TV in the kitchen in case the world came to an end, we wanted to be able to watch it. But we found we didn’t watch it.

So after three weeks of doing without TV, we called Comcast and disconnected. The conversation with Comcast went like this —

  • Me: Hi, I’d like to disconnect my cable service.
  • Comcast: Can I ask you why?
  • Me: We don’t watch it anymore.
  • Comcast: What if I offer you a reduced rate of $33 per month?
  • Me: We still wouldn’t watch it.
  • Comcast: How about just local programming at $15 per month?
  • Me: Thanks, but no.
  • Comcast: How about internet service? We’ve got great internet service.
  • Me: Thanks, but already have it.

So, we are now three weeks into being disconnected from cable. And, there is life after cable, believe it or not. One of the main reasons we disconnected was because we were tired of the way culture is being shaped by TV.

Let me give you some examples:

We live in a world now that has grown accustomed to….

  • violence instead of peace. We expect to see gangs, shootings, war, terrorism, bombings, sexual assault, domestic disputes, and other forms of violence each day.
  • enmity rather than unity. We expect to see the Palestinians and Jews hating each other, the Serbs and the Croats hating each other, muslims and christians hating each other, men and women hating each other, children hating parents, and parents abusing children. We expect that these things are now part of our society and we have to settle for them.
  • hopelessness instead of hope. Palestinians kill Israelis because they have no hope; jihadists kill Americans because they have no hope; street gangs rob innocent people at the mall in Danville because they have no hope. This is what we have grown accustomed to, and settle for.

And, the saddest part is, we think this is the way things are and always will be.

And, this is why we have Advent. This is why we, along with the Jews, look for the Messiah. Because in Jewish thought the Messiah will come when

  1. It is necessary, and
  2. It is possible.

The necessary part is when things are at their worst, when he is needed. The possible part is when things are ready.

We don’t need to spend much time talking about the necessary. We need this messiah of God, this anointed one. But, possible may be another story. For it is in the possible that God calls for the highways to be made straight, for the way to be prepared, for the mountains to be leveled, for the forerunner to cry, Get ready for the coming of God’s anointed. For God’s people not to settle for things as they are, but to see things as they will be.

Because then, when the way is prepared, when things are as God intends, and the messiah appears then —

11:6 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.

11:7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

11:8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

11:9 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.

11:10 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.

Living Into the Messiah’s Coming

We have often thought of the messiah’s dwelling that is spoken of here as heaven. And in Revelation John gives us magnificent images of heaven — streets paved with gold, gates make of giant pearls, walls formed of precious stones. Those images I think are the only words John could find to describe the indescribable. It will be glorious. But, that’s not what Isaiah is describing.

Isaiah says, “for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.  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.” This place, this creation, this earth, this order of things, this home God has given us. This is God’s dwelling, and it was glorious and will be again.

I’m reading The Practice of Everyday Life by Michel de Certeau, a French philosopher and linguist, who writes about how the weak in a society — those without power or prestige — live in such a way as to make the system that is designed to keep them down, to make that system actually work for them.

One practice among French workers is called, la perruque, which means “the wig.” Now it’s not really a wig, but it means when a worker does work for himself disguised as work for his employer. Like when an furniture-maker takes scraps of wood, and fashions them into a table for his own home, using his employer’s tools. Certeau says that inspite of individual incentives which pit workers against each other for more pay for more production, there is an unwritten code among workers that la perruque is overlooked by all.

That’s what we must do. Make this culture, this society in which we have grown accustomed to things not working right, not working in our favor, not working according to God’s plan, we must make this culture serve God’s purposes — making preparation for the coming of the Messiah. We must subvert “the system” of secular culture quietly, but deliberately to prepare the way for the King.

Because the messiah has not only come, but he is coming, and he will come, and he is coming now, and he is coming in the future, and he is coming to us, as he came to Judah, and he will come to our children, and their children, until

  • The wolf lies down with the lamb, the leopard lies down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling are together, and a little child leads them.
  • The cow and the bear graze, their young lie down together; and the lion eats straw like the ox.
  • The nursing child plays over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child can put its hand on the adder’s den.
  • Then, 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.

And it will be a dwelling glorious.  Amen.