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Dec 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 1, 2013 – Isaiah 2:1-5

Advent 1: Connecting the Future With Now

Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the LORD
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.
Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD. 
Isaiah 2:1-5

INTRO: Today is December first and we’re feeling the holiday snowball effect

The momentum of our entire culture is rushing toward Christmas
– it seems like everything about the season is designed to heighten the thrill of it
• the symbols of secular myths and religious faith are appearing everywhere,
○ banners and lights are hung around town,
○ there’s the tree, the wrappings–even the chill weather cooperates
• we’ve already passed the point of no return
– only a soul in deep despair or an old curmudgeon could not get excited about Christmas

But once the snowball crashes into Christmas day, it’s all over
– beginning the day after, we start cleaning up,
• take down everything that we’ve hung
• and we start worrying about how we’re going to pay for all of it
– in Christian tradition, Christmas begins at sunset on December 24 and goes until January 6 (or, for some, February 2)
• but prior to Christmastide, there’s Advent

It’s true that Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas
– but only half-true — the other half is preparing for Jesus’ return
• we relive the experience of Israel waiting for the Messiah

During the feasts celebrated by ancient Israel, families retold the stories from which the feasts derived their origins. As a result, the initial event became lodged in the memory of each generation as something they had experienced for themselves. Take Passover, for example, when God who is beyond time entered historical time to deliver his people from slavery and oppression. Through the re-enactment of that sacred night, future generations were enabled to share a connection with both the event and Israel’s God who visited his people in the event. At the same time, Passover looks to the future (which is why there is always an empty chair at the table reserved for Elijah, Mal.4:55-6). So the feast reminded Israel of a promise not yet fulfilled, a reality not yet actualized

The backdrop of Advent is darkness
– the period before God’s light was revealed in Jesus (cf. Mt. 4:12-16)
• this is in the prophetic psalm of the old priest Zacharias:

Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace. (Lk. 1:78-79)

• Advent recognizes the current darkness that blankets humankind
○ intellectual, moral, interpersonal, social, international, spiritual, etc.
– a book I recently began reading begins,

“. . . ths book asks why, after two thousand years of Bible quoting, proselytizing, praying, hymn singing, cathedral building, witch burning, and missionizing has civilization grown more violent and efficient in mass murder?”

• clearly, Jesus’ objective was not to transform civilization, but to transform individuals (Jn. 18:36)
• so both the world and the church are still in need of a second Advent
○ we need Jesus to return and finish what he started

Besides the Psalm we read together (Ps. 122), there are three other scripture readings for this first Sunday of Advent

In chapter 1, Isaiah described darkness that had descended over Judah

Having turned away from God, they lost their spiritual center
– injustice, corruption and pollution were affecting everything everywhere
• the nation was filled with oppression and violence — diseased from head to food (vv. 5-6)
• and their religion wasn’t working!
– God asked, other than doom, what else could they expect their rebellion to produce?

But then, in chapter 2, Isaiah jumps to a far-off future — “the last days”
– the “house of Yahweh” would not only be restored, but become a world center for justice (cf. Ps. 122:5)
• nations will stream to Jerusalem, because answers will be there
○ from his house, Yahweh will teach his ways so his people can learn to walk in his paths
– so Israel was waiting, the same as we are waiting and for same reasons

Isaiah’s next word is what defines the mission of the prophet

He invites those who hear him to respond in the here and now
– v. 5, “Come” – occurs frequently in Isaiah (e.g., 1:18; 2:3)
• when God’s people walk in light, others are drawn to it

Martin Buber, “Nations can be led to peace only by a people that has made peace a reality within itself. The realization of the spirit has a magnetic effect on mankind which despairs of the spirit. That is the meaning Isaiah’s teachings have for us.”

– if the prophet points to the future, it is not to scare people or merely inform them
• it is to bring people into awareness of the present
• there’s enough light for us to walk in it now

This brings us to next Advent passage: Romans 13:11-14

“Time,” translates the Greek word kairos, a specific or appointed time, a moment of destiny
• we cannot go on sleeping while the house is on fire
• it’s daytime–we must remove the dark clothing of a thief and instead “put on the armor of light”
○ “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”– this new way of being
– this is our assignment for the here and now
• living in this present time of darkness, waiting for the ultimate day to dawn, we can clothe ourselves in the light of Jesus Christ

The fourth Advent passage for today is Matthew 24:36-44

What he tells us is that the “when” of his return is irrelevant – we can’t know it
– what is relevant is our attitude and state of mind, “be on the alert”
– like Isaiah, we don’t live in that day, but in preparation for it
• to be on the alert, is to become sensitive to the movements of God’s grace in our circumstances
• it is to work on developing an awareness of kairos time rather than just the passing of minutes, hours, and days

Christian Wiman, “The first step in the life of the spirit is learning to let yourself experience those moments when life and time seem at once suspended and concentrated, that paradox of attentive oblivion, out of which any sustaining faith grows. These moments may not be–and at first almost certainly will not be–‘meditative.’ They are more likely to break into your awareness, or into what you thought was awareness (‘inbreaking’ is the theological term for Christ’s appearance in the world and in our lives–there is no coaxing it, no way to earn it, no way to prepare except to hone your capacity to respond, which is, finally, your capacity to experience life and death.)” My Bright Abyss

CONC: Our situation is similar but not identical to Isaiah’s

He looked to the distant future and said, “Get ready for it”
– we have already experienced a taste of the future
• we have already experienced a taste of the future in Jesus’ first Advent
• moreover, our individual encounter with Jesus reveals a universal event yet to happen
– but what is remarkable about Isaiah, is that he could look at Judah shadowed in darkness, and envision a nation very different from its current reality
• Walter Brueggeman refers to this – prophetic imagination
○ he reminds us that every important change that results in social improvement, begins with someone’s imagination
• so Isaiah tells his Jewish brothers and sisters, “It won’t always be like this
○ light will replace darkness, swords will be hammered into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks

Jesus transformed the people who followed him, who heard his stories and saw his miracles
– by touching the leper–and redefining what is clean and unclean, what is righteous and unrighteous
• Jesus turned the attention of his followers from concerns over the technically moral to the deeply relational
• he changed their thinking with his unconventional compassion
○ by healing what was broken and forgiving what had gone wrong (Mt. 12:19-20)
• he gave people a different way of looking at themselves and of looking at others

We wait, but it isn’t the kind of waiting that strains our nerves or intensifies our anxiety
– but the kind that energizes us — we are not sedentary
• our strength is being renewed, we are rising as if on eagles’ wings,
○ we are running without getting weary, walking long hard trails without passing out
– we wait, because the world is not right and our institutions (political, corporate, or religions) cannot fix it
• but because it is Jesus Christ for whom we are waiting and who will bring something radically new
• we can live the rest of our lives imaginatively and creatively
○ we can live in hope

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