Summary: A sermon for the 1st Sunday in Advent.
(Some ideas and themes for this sermon come from the Book: "Almost Christmas: A Wesleyan Advent Experience")
“This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.”
In chapter 1 Isaiah graphically laid out what was going on in Jerusalem at the time he spoke the words in Chapter 2: There was violence, bribery, unfaithfulness, desolation, and trampling on the poor.
There were brief interruptions as God called for repentance and offered glimpses of hope, but they are drowned out by these pictures of violence and rebellion.
Then Chapter 2 opens as though Isaiah is starting all over again -- or God is.
People of every nation will stream to Mt. Zion, including those who were enemies of Israel and Judah.
God’s instruction will go forth from Jerusalem; God will judge between the nations.
The people will be transformed by God’s teaching.
Can you see it?
They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Who can believe that?
Do you know that Isaiah’s words are carved into the wall across from the United Nations building in New York?
Who do you suppose believes these words across the street as they blame Iran for simmering tensions in the Middle East, as they wring their hands over hundreds of thousands killed in Syria, and as North Korea blames the United States for the vicious cycle of increased tension?
Like almost all the images we will see during this Advent season, Isaiah’s picture of swords turned into plowshares seems absurd.
Or is it?
I mean Isaiah was a realist. His pictures in Chapter 1 are as graphic as the evening news:
“Your country lies desolate,
your cities are burned with fire…”
“And daughter Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard,
like a shelter in a vineyard, like a city under siege.”
“Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.”
“They do not defend the orphan,
and the widow’s cause does not come before them.”
Isaiah isn’t naïve.
This vision of weapons of war turned into agricultural tools, images of death-dealing turned into food-producing is a promise for “the days to come.”
It comes to us from the future, and longs to shape the days in which we are living now.
Imagine you’re on a long road trip.
And after hours behind the wheel, you see the first sign that shows the name of where you are going and how many more miles until you get there.
And this, kind of gives you mixed feelings doesn’t it?
I mean, first, it’s good news because you know you are getting a lot closer to your destination.
But, it’s also kinda bad news because you aren’t there yet, and you still have a long way to go.
Your back is aching, your stomach is rumbling, your eyes are tired and your mind is getting numb from the seemingly endless roads, but you still haven’t arrived.
This is the tension we face in the Advent Season.
It’s the now and the not yet.
We talk about Jesus Who is coming again to be with us, even though we know He is already here.
We speak of the presence of “peace on earth and goodwill to all,” but the evidence around us feels like it’s a long way coming.
And although society sings that this is “the most wonderful time of the year,” we know that the distance to the ultimate destination feels very far indeed.
It doesn’t take much to realize how many miles we have to go before we get to the destination of true peace.
And then think about the lack of peace in your own heart.
Perhaps you are unsettled about the future.
Maybe there is some unfinished business that keeps you up night after night.
Do you have conflict going on against your own inner demons of guilt and shame?
Do you have an inability to control your anger, fear and sinfulness?
Oh, we all do our best to make it seem as if we are at peace.
We laugh, we joke.
We cover up our insecurities, we put on a good face in the midst of the chaos of our lives in order to convince others—and even ourselves—that things are better than they are.
But on the inside, we are far from peaceful.
We might even be afraid.
It should be no wonder that each one of the characters in Jesus’ birth narrative had very similar struggles as our own.
None of Jesus’ closest family and friends had perfect, trouble-free lives when He was born.
That’s why, for each of them, the angel’s first words were: “Don’t be afraid.”
Over and over again in the Gospels, we are reminded that the world Jesus entered was a world that needed a whole lot of peace.