Today is the first Sunday of Advent and we begin our Advent journey by focusing on the theme of HOPE.
The 19th Century American poet Emily Dickenson in one of her poems described hope in this way…
“Hope” is the thing with feathers–
That perches in the soul–
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops–at all.”
For too many people today the bird of hope has ceased to sing its song. Too many crises of life seek to rob us of our song and of our hope. For many people in Isaiah’s day, the same thing had happened. They had lost their hope at a critical time in history when war and conflict abounded. People’s hearts had turned away from God, and idol worship, superstitions, and rebelliousness had taken over. People were indifferent to spiritual truth.
The situation of Isaiah’s day has rung true for every generation since Isaiah first proclaimed God’s word of hope to Israel.
Isaiah came on the scene during war times with a message of hope and the promise of salvation. His message of hope came early in his career between the prosperity of King Uzziah and the reforms of King Hezekiah. The land is destitute. The people had everything except for a hope inspiring faith in God.
Speaking during those critical times, the prophet Isaiah pointed out several things that helped the people to see that all was not lost. He essential told them, “things will not always be this way.” Isaiah pointed the people back to the God, who is the source of hope. He encouraged them and encourages us to live in the reality of God’s amazing hope-filled promises. And this is where we begin our Advent journey.
Isaiah begins his prophetic message by directing the people of God back to their source of hope.
Isaiah announced…(verse 2a)
In days to come,
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
Isaiah directs the people of God to Jerusalem, where the temple stood. The Jerusalem temple was the center of Israel’s spiritual life and worship. The temple was the earthly place where God interacted with his people.
Isaiah declares that Jerusalem will be established as the highest hill, not because it would be literally made higher than any other mountain, but because the worship of God would be restored to its proper place in their lives.
As the Jerusalem temple became the center and focal point of the Jewish faith, so Christ’s life and work became the center and focal person of Christianity.
There have been other great people throughout history, but Jesus is the only one whom we declare and claim to be our Savior and Lord. Jesus is the rock upon which we have built and continue to build our faith upon.
Isaiah’s reminder to focus on what is most important to their faith, is also a reminder to us in the midst of our trying times to keep our focus squarely on the center of our faith.
There have been moments in my life where I found myself despairing over the state of the world. It is the face of the joyous child of the manger as well as the pain stricken face of Jesus on the cross draw me back to the mystery of our God who offers us hope through his beloved Son.
What are you focusing your attention during this season? Is it the hype of the season or the child of manger?
Isaiah moves on to announce to the people that the God of Hope, who is the center of their faith, cannot be hidden and that people will be attracted Him.
This is a prophecy that stretches out over many hundreds of years. Another way of stating Isaiah’s declaration is “You don’t see it now, things look very dark and desolate–but don’t give up hope. A day is coming when the Messiah will come–salvation will be available to all people, even to Gentles.”
Jerusalem, the mountain of the Lord will be so prominent that people will stream to it. They won’t feel coerced or pressured to come, they will just WANT to come to it to.
In the New Testament, Jesus referred to this in a roundabout way to Jerusalem by declaring that a city on a hill cannot be hidden in Matthew 5:14. It was hard not to notice Jerusalem in the Judean hills. People could see it and went there to worship God.
During this season, there are classic movies and music that people return watch, and listen to year after year. Charles Dickens’s story “A Christmas Carol” or Charles Shultz A Charlie Brown Christmas or Handel’s beautiful “Messiah” are just three examples of this.
There is something attractive and compelling about these two examples that keep people coming back to them. Every time they are watched, read, or listened to deeper meaning is found.
There is something innately timeless, profound, attractive, and mysterious about the Christmas Story that draws people to it. There is something that touches people on some deeper level that they can’t always understand or express easily. We are reminded that we don’t have to make the story of Christ’s birth interesting, because it is interesting in and of itself.
For the past 2000 years people have been drawn into the mystery and meaning of it. The story has inspired great works of art and music that continue to express the beauty and meaning of it. The child of the manger keeps people coming back to our Christmas Eve services year after year.
What continues to intrigue you and draw you into the Christmas story?
Following this announcement Isaiah declares that all is not lost because out of Zion will come instruction. The Biblical story of God’s love for us helps people to connect their own stories to it and to find meaning in their lives through what the people of Bible experienced and learned. That for me is one of the things that draws me to the Christian story.
Being a naturally skeptical person, I love the story of Doubting Thomas who questions the resurrection, but one who Christ holds out his scarred hands to and invites new belief in him. I can wrestle with the complexities of life as the skeptical Preacher of Ecclesiastes does and return again and again to what is most important about life. No matter what we experience or struggle with, there is a story in the people that helps us to connect with God who become one of us in Christ.
There is so much to learn and relearn from those who were involved in the birth of Christ. There is always something new to be learned from the prophets who pointed to the birth of Christ, from Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Wiseman who were directly involved in the birth, and then to the Apostles who wrestled with the meaning and implications of Christ’s birth for the church.
The biggest challenge, I believe we face each year at this time is who among the cast of characters in the Christmas story do we need to listen and learn from.
Think for a moment, which person in the Christmas story is the Holy Spirit wanting you to pay close attention to this year?
And finally, Isaiah stirs the people of God to have hope by presenting them with God’s vision of the future.
Eugene Peterson in “The Message” translates the words of Isaiah in verse 4 like this
He’ll settle things fairly between nations.
He’ll make things right between many peoples.
They’ll turn their swords into shovels,
their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation;
they won’t play war anymore.
That is truly an inviting vision that God offered to the people of Isaiah’s time and even for us today.
I remember one year where I visited my parents in California. That same year my older sister had returned to live and work in California.
My older sister and I had had a turbulent relationship over the years. I can’t remember what sparked us to have a full on drag out fight with each other, but we did. We shared years of hurt feelings, years of assuming the worst in each other, years of feeling not being heard and appreciated by each other.
The conversation was a messy one, but it ended up being transformational for both of us. The conversation was the forge of mediation by which God healed our broken relationship.
Years of angry words and actions needed to hammered into a new ways of peace where were we could love and relate to one another. Our embracing of God’s prophetic vision lay at the heart of this transformation. It has lead us to a deeper relationship with one another and has opened the way for a hope-filled future for both of us.
The Bible is filled with the persistent belief that despite the trauma and tragedies of life, God is still working. The message to us is that God has the ABILITY to transform any situation, no matter how hopeless, into one of hope. God promises us His hope-filled guidance and direction for our journey in this life. That’s the vision that God’s people and we need to hear again and again.
Whenever God’s vision for the future is embraced, it inspires people who hear it to participate in it. Great things happen whenever God’s people embrace God’s visions and plans for our world.
The more we allow Christ to be the center of our lives, the more we will be drawn to Him. The more we connect with the people involved in birth of Christ, the more we will embrace and participate in the God’s hope-filled vision for the future.
As we begin our Advent journey together, may Isaiah’s words of hope be the song that we sing in our souls this week as we seek to walk in the light of the LORD!
To Father, Son, and Spirit
be all glory, honor, and praise.