And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
Isaiah 11:1-10 (CEB)
A few years ago I worked as a part-time graphic designer for a local art museum. I have always been a fan of art but actually working with and being surrounded by art gave me a much deeper appreciation for it. The interesting thing about art is that people will have differing opinions about the same piece. Some will see something beautiful while others will see something with no artistic merit. Some may look at a Jackson Pollack painting and see nothing but random splatters of paint while others will see a beautiful composition in the multicolored swaths of paint. People will wander through a museum and put all sorts of meaning into a work of art without ever having a conversation with the artist about what the piece might actually mean. Their own perception of the art seemingly allows them to make judgements about the art and maybe even the artist.
This week’s reading from the prophet Isaiah highlights an interesting promise about the coming Messiah. The verse points out that, “he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.” This seems to be an odd thing to promise and praise about a coming Messiah. How can you judge something without seeing it first? How can you reprove or correct without having heard what needs correcting? Seems like an odd statement. But, Isaiah is full of statements like these that at first seem incoherent at best. In Isaiah’s calling in chapter six, God asks him to tell the people, “Listen intently, but don’t understand; look carefully, but don’t comprehend. Make the minds of this people dull. Make their ears deaf and their eyes blind, so they can’t see with their eyes or hear with their ears, or understand with their minds, and turn, and be healed.” What is it about hearing and not understanding, seeing and not comprehending, judging without seeing or correcting without hearing that God wants to get across? I think it might have something to do with looking at art like I mentioned earlier.
What we see and what we hear can be subjective, embellished, understated or persuaded.
Especially when it comes to perceptions about the meek and poor often perceptions can be greatly skewed by what we often see and hear. Seeing and hearing often do not require actually knowing or understanding anything about what what one is seeing or hearing. Judgements made on that basis are then empty and misinformed. The promised Messiah then is not going to base his judgements on simply seeing or hearing.
Righteousness and equity will be the measure of his judgements. The meek and poor will be judged by the same merits as the rich and powerful. Perceptions will not cloud his decisions. They will instead by made with sound judgements and equal treatment for all regardless of what is seen or heard. The Messiah will bring true righteousness and equity to his judgments.
Advent is a progressive lighting of candles, bringing light where there wasn’t any before. Giving purpose to candles that at once stood lifeless and dark. The judgments and corrections of the coming Messiah will not snuff out or eliminate light from the world. They will progressively bring brighter light, allowing all to burn bright. Allowing a community of light to develop with Christ as the main light in the center. Providing righteous judgments and equal corrections should be a restorative action not a punitive one. Restoring order and allowing each and every persons light to shine as God has intended.
So, as we continue to light the candles of Advent, may we also look to see how our own perceptions may cloud our judgment about others. May we look to restore light in others that is not burning or has been snuffed out. May what we see and hear not be the only determination of our decisions. May we desire to truly know and understand and see things in the light of of the Messiah.