Advent 1, Isaiah 2:1–5: Hope
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Our theme today is hope. We’re going to be looking at, very briefly, we’re going to be looking at Isaiah 2:1–5. This is the lectionary reading for Advent week one.
This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.’
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war any more.
Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Isaiah 2:1–5, NIVUK
Why are we talking about Isaiah’s vision? As we have already reflected, today is the beginning of Advent. During Advent, and the run-up and preparation for Christmas, we will be using these traditional readings from the lectionary. I was given a lectionary this week. A book that enables people to read the whole Bible over a period of time, and which has somehow chosen to be linked to the traditional church year.
The themes at Advent are often hope, joy, peace, love, and they will be reflected in our services over these next few weeks. As well as lighting candles, we will have such readings. Today somehow, our theme from Isaiah picks up the theme of hope.
Just a few short verses here, there is if we look closely enough, a promise of hope, something that I think we are thinking that we might all need today. Not just a cursory glance as some might suggest. As we dig a little deeper, we might even find glimpses of the Christmas story and I hope that I’m not taking things out of context. My thought is that there had to be a reason why those who put this lectionary together decided to include Isaiah 2:1–5 at the very beginning of the church year.
Today, I’m looking to, perhaps, draw some comparisons between what Isaiah says with how things fits into the Advent story, and the birth and the life of Jesus. Neil, have you got the first slide, please? Even before we come to a mountain, Isaiah writes about Judah. There’s a map there of Judah and Israel. Now Judah is one of the 12 tribes of Israel and, interestingly, it is also the family line through which King David and Jesus are from.
Why is this interesting to us? Because of a contemporary of Isaiah was Micah, another prophet who was included in the Old Testament. Micah 5:2 foretells Bethlehem, otherwise known as the city of David, as the place where the Messiah would be born. Even though it’s described in Micah as among the tribes or the clans of Judah, and small among them. Micah 5 continues that, in the hope that there will be a son that comes from Bethlehem.
My thinking is that the lectionary has Isaiah 2 at the beginning of Advent, because it shows a link between Judah and how that links to Bethlehem, which is linked to the birth of Jesus. Which is all about hope, and all of this is 800 years before the birth of Jesus.
Next, my thoughts were drawn to this interesting phrase, “in the last days”. We often think that this means at the end of time, though it might mean anything for us to do with something in the future. For instance, many Christians have been living in the last days since Jesus’ ascension, and so interpreting “last days” is somewhat of a difficult thing to do.
In a wider sense, there are other times in the Bible where we come across this same phrase. Two examples of this are in Joel 2, another Old Testament who states that “In the last days, or afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions even on my servants, men and women. I will pour out my spirits in those days”, says the LORD. In difficult circumstances, God still promises hope for his people. A present and a future hope.
In Acts 2, Peter reminds those listening to him on the day of Pentecost, after the followers of Jesus had received the gift of the promised Holy Spirit, as foretold by Jesus, that these things would happen. Joel and Acts point towards God’s coming Holy Spirit, God pouring out His Holy Spirit. Points towards all nations. All nations streaming to the mountain of God.
For me there is a promise of revelation of God himself, not only to the people of Israel, but to everybody. This promise of future hope is coming closer in those days. In those last days, and even today, may we be introduced to hope afresh. When we think of Isaiah’s prophecy at the start of Advent, I wonder whether we are slowly being reminded afresh, of the promise that the Messiah is both here and coming.
Just as Joel foretold that the Holy Spirit would one day be for everyone, so the Promised Messiah, from Bethlehem in Judah, would also become the Saviour of the world. The name Jesus means rescuer or liberator. Maybe when we look at the phrase “in the last days”, God is starting to talk through the prophets about there being a closer presence of God in the world than ever before, and what closer presence could there be than the birth of a baby?
Can we have the next slide please? Speaking of babies this week, Tim and Sam have a baby boy, yet to be named, so presently they’ve called him Snappy. I can’t quite remember why it’s Snappy. There’s some family issue there with alligators and crocodiles, that’s all I can remember, but we celebrate with Tim and with Sam. A closer presence of God in this world than ever before, and what closer presence could there be than the birth of a baby? These last days might somehow symbolize God’s presence by sending, firstly, his son, followed by the Holy Spirit.
Next one please, Neil. It is this sort of symbolism that holds true when we think of mountains, on the left. The Mountain of God, which is also a symbol, because it’s the symbol of the temple in Jerusalem for Isaiah. Known today as the Temple Mount, on the right hand side. At 2,400 feet it’s not quite a mountain but the symbolism is there. It’s a mount rising above the Judaean hills.
Isaiah might well be describing the importance of the First Temple, built there in around 1,000 BC before it was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar in around 587 before another temple was built by Herod in the first century, the temple that Jesus and His followers would have known. The significance of this holy place and mountains throughout the Old Testament was seen as holy places where people of all nations would be drawn to God’s teaching and seems to points to hope.
It’s not only the people of God, the Jewish people, who would ascend the mountain but all people. Indeed it’s not just about the building, the temple, it’s not there. If we see it through our Advent journey lens, we know that at his birth and later through his own teaching, another new temple was established, Jesus Christ Himself.
Jesus would prophesy himself directly in close range of the second temple, that he was the replacement of that new temple. In John 2, there’s a challenge from the Jews. Next one please, Neil. “The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”. Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple and I’ll raise it in three days”. They replied, “It’s taken 46 years to build this temple, you’re going to raise it in three days?”
Jesus, of course, was symbolically talking about his death and resurrection rather than the actual destruction of this new temple. Though that said, he could also have been prophesying about the actual destruction of that temple which began in 70 AD. Jesus himself was talking about Him being the hope for the world.
Next one please, Neil. With our Advent journey lens, Isaiah is talking both significantly and symbolically about a mountain and a temple and shockingly for his hearers, it’s for all people, not just the people of gods to ascend. Again for me, this strikes of hope. God is not only for the chosen people of Israel but for everyone. He invites everyone to learn his ways just as people of all nations are drawn to this mountain. We know that people were drawn to Jesus’ teaching in a voluntary way and so the symbolism continues as people are invited to move towards the Messiah.
Hope, that Jesus invites people into this kingdom which he is speaking about, where you love God by loving your neighbour, for instance. Hope, it seems through looking through Isaiah’s prophecy through the lens of Jesus, draws us to the kingdom of God, your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Right here, right now, God with us. His name is Emmanuel, God with us, in the good times and the painful times.
Isaiah gives an example of how this kingdom might look: peace and justice. Isaiah speaks of God’s justice bringing people together to beat swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.
Next one please, Neil. I don’t know if you had the opportunity this month to visit The Knife Angel at Chester Cathedral. I had every intention of visiting this week, but events have overtaken. Alfie Bradley who sculpted this 27-foot piece of art, over 100,000 knives handed into police knife amnesties, is the visible representation of what piece could be like. Ishbel has written a poem which is in this week’s notice sheet and she’s coming to read it for us now. Thank you Ishbel.
[Ishbel: ] It’s called The Knife Angel outside Chester Cathedral.
Here you stand, firmly grounded.
You are going nowhere, for now at least.
Goliath like, you tower above all
who stop to look. You are hard to ignore.
And I wonder, do you feel at home
with your new neighbour – this place
where angels habitually dwell?
Are you out of your comfort zone?
You are no Christmas angel, singing
in celestial choirs, nor one who speaks
his message loud and clear to virgins
and to ancient patriarchs.
Silent messenger, your outheld palms
tell of possible redemption, your
hundred thousand knives of fragile peace.
Look and learn, you say, all you who pass by.
There is another way.
16 / 11 / 2019
[Paul: ] Thank you. Alec Motyer, one of the commentators on Isaiah, suggests that verse 4, the talk of beating swords to ploughshares and spears to pruning hooks is another promise of hope. He suggests it’s a return to Eden. The last one please, Neil. A return to Eden. As people walk with God, hope grows and evolves and develops.
The story of Isaiah’s prophecy continues through the next 35 chapters, or so, reminding God’s people of his judgment. Then in chapter 40 and beyond, reminding them of mercy and of peace and of hope. The wider story of hope, as we have seen this morning, through the lens of Jesus and that the beginning of our Advent journey is just that. We can hope, we can trust in the hope that the Christ child will bring that whatever our individual or corporate situation, however grave, the hope of glory is indeed the Christ Child himself, the one born into the line of Judah, into the little town of Bethlehem.
The Advent journey is not one that we walk each year in the same way, quietly anticipating what it will be like on Christmas Day. We already have Christ in us, Christ walking with us. Our Advent journey may well be reflecting upon how life might be without Jesus in our lives but more than that, perhaps our Advent journey might be a hopeful journey, having Jesus with us now brings us hope. How even in difficulties, hope might make the difference. That hope, however shallow or deep it might be for us right now, can make that tiny bit of difference.
To quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Hope is being able to see the light despite all the darkness”. Today, as we draw our service to a close, may we have hope for people. May we have hope for places and spaces in our lives where hope is most needed. May our imagination be stirred and our vision expanded with all that is possible and may we be full enough of hope and daring to throw ourselves in and do what needs to be done. Amen.
J Alec Motyer, Isaiah: Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, Tyndale, 2009.
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