Summary: A sermon on Isaiah’s beautiful vision of hope for the people of his own day and for us today.
Sermon for Advent I Yr A, 28/11/2004
Based on Isa 2:1-5
By Rev Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
It is hard to believe that today we begin a new church year once again, time flies! I don’t know about you, but over the years I have come to love the season of Advent. I love it not only because it is an exciting season—we adults all love to watch the excitement, especially among the children as they wait rather impatiently for Christmas to come. I also love Advent because it is a season of the church year that cuts a gigantic swath! The scripture passages during Advent, in addition to keeping our feet grounded in the here-and-now, move us into a fast-forward kind of way to the conclusion of all history, and the coming of God’s realm in all of its marvellous fullness. In short, Advent is a season that invites us to think seriously about the meaning of time and how we use it. Time is a precious gift from God, which gives us the opportunity to live as people of hope, peace, joy and love.
The compilers of the lectionary throw us a curveball during Advent. The portions from the Hebrew Scriptures are foretelling the coming of a Messiah who has not yet appeared. The New Testament passages, on the other hand, not only presuppose a first coming but look forward to a second. As Martin Buber has pointed out, the biggest single difference between Jews and Christians is that while we are both messianic faiths, when it comes to cataloguing how Messiahs come and go, we have very different timetables. 1
Today’s first lesson from the prophet Isaiah is one of the most hope-filled passages of the Bible. Indeed, maybe we should have stood up when it was read like we do for the Gospel lesson, for, in my humble opinion, this Isaiah passage is full of Gospel-hope!
It is written by one of Israel’s most upbeat and inspired prophets. Although we don’t know much about Isaiah, according to his call in chapter six, we have reason to believe that he was a court prophet, since his call was in the Jerusalem temple. He lived in the eighth century before Christ, and was a contemporary of the prophets Amos, Hosea, and Micah. There may have been some connection with Micah, since Isaiah 2:2-4 of today’s passage are almost identical to Micah 4:1-4.
The situation at the time Isaiah wrote this prophetic oracle of hope was a rather sombre one. After the superpower Assyria had successfully invaded and occupied the Northern kingdom of Israel, Judah the Southern kingdom feels very vulnerable and threatened by the Assyrians. There appears to have been some in Judah who were advising that Judah form an alliance with Egypt to ensure their political and military security against the Assyrians. However, Isaiah is opposed to such an alliance with Egypt. He advised Judah remain on its own and rely solely upon the LORD God, who would protect and preserve the chosen people if they remained faithful to him by keeping the covenant. In the midst of anxiety and despair, Isaiah preached a vision of a much brighter, more hopeful future.
The world hasn’t changed all that much since the days of Isaiah. Nations, especially superpowers, threaten to dominate the world by calling all the shots militarily and politically—holding the poorer, smaller nations in captivity. Smaller nations still feel vulnerable politically and militarily, just like Judah did in ancient times. It is precisely in this situation of anxiety and despair that a vision of hope is required and reminds us of our deepest need to place all of our trust and security in the LORD our God. Isaiah is correct; our ultimate hope is in the LORD our God, NOT military and political security.
Isaiah then goes on to provide us with clues as to what this hope in the LORD God looks like. The first thing he states is that it shall be centred in Jerusalem—which Isaiah calls “the mountain of the LORD’S house,” “the house of the God of Jacob,” and “Zion.” All of these refer to Jerusalem, which shall become, in the days of the Messiah, the spiritual and political centre of the world. Notice that Isaiah uses the word “highest” to emphasise the supremacy of Jerusalem over against all other mountains and hills. Then he tells us Jerusalem is destined to be such an attractive place that “all nations” shall make their pilgrimage to the dwelling place of the Messiah. So Jerusalem shall be the gathering place of the nations.
Then Isaiah goes on to state the reason for the nations gathering at Jerusalem. They shall come in order that the Messiah “may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” In other words, there is an expectation here that the Messiah has something wonderful to offer all peoples. Along with this expectation, there is openness, a receptiveness to learning from the Messiah’s teachings. This openness and receptivity to learning is also from the Messiah, and is mentioned in the prophet Jeremiah 31:33-34—where he speaks of God’s saving action to make a new covenant. Jeremiah says the LORD at that time shall: “put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.” Thanks to this saving work of God, people shall be able to actually “walk in his (God’s) paths.” The Messiah’s teachings shall not be so idealistic that we cannot live up to them—rather, everyone who is instructed shall be able to benefit from the instruction and “walk in his paths.”