Sunday – 01 December 2019
1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
36 "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Reflection: God with us – when we really think about it it’s an incredible idea.
As we begin our Advent journey, as we prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, we begin to explore the enormity of that claim – that Jesus, whose coming we are preparing for once again, is Immanuel – God with us.
It’s easy to say it, as we pass our way through to Christmas but what does it really mean? We might even sing Come, o come Immanuel but to we give even passing thought to what that implies?
Our reading from Isaiah this morning sets the scene for the rest of the book of Isaiah. Just as the book moves from judgement to the promise or hope of redemption and restoration, the first chapter of Isaiah proclaims judgement on Judah and Jerusalem. But the second chapter from which our reading comes, holds up a vision of a new peaceable reign of God that is to come – something Jesus called the Kingdom of God.
What were the sins of Judah and Jerusalem? They are sins not uncommon in our own time – greed, self-interest, corruption in high places, rampant inequality, and religion gone awry. Instead of seeking the welfare of the orphan, the widow, and the oppressed as the Torah had commanded, the people of God were seeking (using our terms) to pad their own bank accounts and superannuation funds, to ensure that they would live in the manner which they enjoyed for the rest of their lives. They continued to practice their religious rituals, continued to go to synagogue and temple, but not to practice the justice that God required.
The consequence of that was that there was no peace in the land. And so the first words we hear in Isaiah are words of judgement:
Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates;
They have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood. Isa 1:14-15.
But in Ch 2 instead of the language of criticism, the language becomes energising as the prophet recounts a vision he has seen concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
It is a vision of all the peoples of the earth gathered together on the holy mountain of Jerusalem, worshipping God together. It is a vision of God operating like a great cosmic and highly effective United Nations, judging fairly and equitably among the nations of the world. It is a vision in which all the nations stop making war, instead turning their weapons into farming tools. The resources once used for terrible violence are now to be used for food.
Surely there are insights here that are still relevant for us today. The people of God still fall prey to the evils of greed, self-interest, corruption, inequality and religion that cares more about itself than caring for neighbour and stranger as God requires. And much more than caring for this planet God created and we live on. Nations still wage war on each other, and spend eyewatering amounts of money on ‘defence’ and the memorialising of war, using precious resources that could be directed to feeding the poor, providing clean water for everyone, and making the changes necessary to mitigate the impact of a changing climate.
But as well as words of criticism, Isaiah paints a picture of what the new heavens might look like, a vision of the world that would come if only we would turn to God and away from our selfishness.
Our gospel reading for this week has often evoked fear – not something we normally expect during Advent with all its lovely images of babies, stars and choirs of angels. Visions of rapture and floods wiping out most of the earths living beings or a thief in the night are not for the fainthearted.
But if we look past those images, we see that this text is really about urgency and watchfulness. About waking from our slumber, from our complacency, and being ready for the surprising inbreaking of the Christ.
Instead of being obsessed with signs and symbols, like tying to link bushfires with some confected wrong, or trying to figure out when the Son of Man might return, we are called to be about the works Christ calls us to, in his name, works that the Hebrew scriptures describes as peacemaking and justice seeking.
The figures of Noah and the householder in our passage are given to show us what we should not be doing. We should not be listening to those around us who tell us (as they told Noah) that there is no flood coming and that we are causing much ado about nothing.
Instead we should be about the work of creating arks of safety for those who are most likely to be affected by the storms of life.
Nor should we be slumbering under the false security that all is well in our world when in reality, thieves are breaking in and stealing things of value from people that God loves. Instead, we should be alert, awake and aware and doing what we can to confront and contain those who would misuse their wealth and power.
We are also called to be on the lookout for God and goodness (God can be found wherever goodness is) to break into our world. We are called to hope. We, as people of faith, need to be reminded of a God being born among us as the source of our hope as we join together in the movement to heal our planet. Because Jesus is not only the Christ of the church, or the Christ of Christian people. He is the Cosmic Christ – the Christ of the whole creation. And the salvation he brings is the salvation of the whole creation, not just humankind. The kingdom of God is the salvation of the whole creation. And so when the Christ comes among us once more, that great vision of a world united in God, where peace and justice reign, will be realised.
In the meantime, we are called to live in eager anticipation of God’s inbreaking here and now. Whenever justice breaks out, God is in our midst. Whenever people talk of peace instead of war, God is in our midst. Whenever people of different faiths work together for good, God is in our midst. And whenever we give up a little of our own wealth and comfort to help others, God is in our midst. And yes, when we set aside self-interest and put the interest of the planet first, God is in our midst.
So Come, Immanuel,
For here is where heaven and earth come together in meeting.
Come and keep your appointment with us –
To let the power of your story affect us,
The reality of your presence touch us.
The world is in great pain.
Come bringing light and lightness to our living,
Come as welcome company for the lonely and hurting.
Come disturbing the apathetic and upsetting the indifferent.
Your world is ready; your people are waiting.
Come where hope is sleeping,
Come where faith has given way to fear.
Come where joy is absent and tears are waiting to be dried.
Shape our living and our being.
Come and bless us and disturb us.
Come, great hope of humanity. Come.
(adapted from Veni Immanuel in Dirt, Mess and Danger, Wildgoose Publications 2001)