‘Tis the season of arrivals. Cards, packages, visitors. Oh, yes, and Jesus.
Who and what are we expecting, and how might we prepare?
During Advent, we will be reading from the prophet Isaiah, who wrote in the eighth century before Christ, in Judah, Israel’s southern kingdom. The renowned Old Testament scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann calls the book of Isaiah “an oratorio about the suffering and destiny of Jerusalem…the meeting place of divine will and historical reality.” (Isaiah 1-39, Westminster Bible Companion). It is full of judgment and lament, and equally full of vision and hope.
Isaiah vividly conjures a future where God reigns on earth as in heaven:
“Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”
“They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.”
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.”
“Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
Twenty-nine centuries later, can we still see Isaiah’s vision? Do we expect it still?
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was in the synagogue one day and read from the scroll of Isaiah, and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” God’s kingdom had come to earth in the person of Jesus. And yet, today we are twice as far in time from Jesus as Jesus was from Isaiah, and as we know, the fullness of that reign is still not upon us. This is what Advent is all about – remembering that Jesus came to announce the arrival of God’s reign and show us what it would be like, and looking forward to the time when it will be on earth, as it is in heaven.
I trust that we come to church because we want to hold on to Isaiah’s vision, although its fulfillment is much deferred. We want to live in joyful expectation of its coming as much as we live in joyful expectation of a glorious celebration of Christmas.
Join me this Advent in claiming again Isaiah’s vision, as lived by Jesus, as a directional force in our lives. Let’s set our sights on the arrival of a new heaven and a new earth, and orient our hearts, minds, souls, and strength in its direction. Each Sunday of Advent we will gather after the 10:00 service to study the Advent texts from Isaiah and think about these questions:
Who are we and what is our relationship with God?
How do we understand God’s dream for the world, for our community, for our parish?
How are we called to work toward the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision in our own time?
This is how we prepare to welcome the Christ child – by opening our hearts to the truth of what he is so that we may commit ourselves anew to joining his work in this world.