This sermon was preached at St. Patrick’s on December 1, 2013.
Hope and Invitation
In our modern culture, we often think of prophets as people who foretell the future. But prophets in the Old Testament were individuals who called the people back to God. And so this the framework we need to work with when we listen to Isaiah…
The stage is being set today. This is our liturgical, “In the beginning…”
The words of Isaiah are the first words to the church in Advent, the first words to the church in our lectionary. These are significant, important, weighty words.
Like at a Cirque de Soliel production, I imagine a wild character dancing through the crowd, playfully teasing and bantering before stepping in front of a massive red curtain. And as the story begins, the prophet and curtain are swept up in grand fashion to reveal a vision of a mountain that is majestic and striking…
Isaiah gives the church a vision and message from God. And what we hear is a message of hope and invitation.
So first, let’s talk about hope.
I’m sure you’ve heard me say this before: Hope is belief in a world that does not yet exist.
And this is the promise of God. This is the promise in the words seen by Isaiah.
See, when Isaiah speaks to the Israelites, they are in the midst of disorientation. Isaiah 1 tells of bribery, violence, taking advantage of the poor…
Israel was a relatively small group of people who had been subjected to war, fear, intimidation, exile, and more by the Assyrians and Babylonians. Their world had been turned upside down by much more powerful tribes and kingdoms.
To begin Advent with Isaiah 2 almost suggests that we do not need to hear those words that come prior. Disorientation is a reality of the world in which we live. Listen to the words of Isaiah 1…
Your country lies desolate,
your cities are burned with fire
…Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan
Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.
…kickbacks and corruption in big business and government
They do not defend the orphan,
and the widow’s cause does not come before them.
…The Sequester, the health care debate, the living wage debate
Turn on the tv, log onto your favorite news site, maybe just simply take stock of our own lives. We know that we live in a reality that is unbalanced, broken, and lacking.
And so, Isaiah’s vision from God of reconciliation and peace may have sounded just as absurd to the Israelites 2500 years ago as it does today.
The absurdity of this vision is captured nicely by the satirical news publication, The Onion: one of their headlines last week proclaimed: Buddhist Extremist Cell Vows To Unleash Tranquility On West.
This fictitious group threatened to inflict a wave of tranquility and peace: “In the name of the Great Teacher, we will stop at nothing to unleash a firestorm of empathy, compassion, and true selflessness upon the West,”
This is just how absurd and counter cultural true peace is to the world today, that it works as satire.
However, it is important to point out that Isaiah wasn’t naïve. He was not a Pollyana prophet, saying, “Oh, everything’s going to be just fine!”
It may sound absurd, but Isaiah holds up a true vision of hope.
A vision of hope grounded in God’s covenant with Israel.
A covenant that says if the people worship God, then God will take care of the people.
Hope grounded in having been led out from Egypt.
Hope grounded in belief that God will reorient relationships and restructure the world.
God will judge and mediate: God is the One who takes the grievances, hurts, desires, and hungers of the nations and through his authority is able to make peace, bridge division, and resolve conflict.
When God mediates between the nations, we no longer have a reason to justify war and conflict. It is at this point that we will truly be able to beat swords into plowshares. Resources will feed the hungry instead of make bombs. We will be able to focus resources towards cultivation instead of destruction.
This is reorientation and transformation at our very core. And this is what followers of God hope for…a world that does not yet exist.
And this is where we shift from hope to invitation.
Isaiah takes us up onto a mountain and shows us what our hearts are truly attuned towards…
Life in relationship with God.
Isaiah invites us up onto the mountain to learn the ways of God and to walk in His path.
Isaiah’s contemporary, Micah, makes the same invitation, nearly word for word.
Jeremiah talks of God writing his laws on the hearts of the people.
These are invitations to be in relationship with God.
Reorientation is to happen through relationship with God.
The Israelites saw this happening through the study of scripture and worship: writing the ways of God on their hearts and going to Temple to worship, being in the presence of Yahweh.
It’s not so different as a Christian, is it?
We see the life of God made manifest fully in the person of Jesus.
When we make our lives in the way of Jesus,
…we enter into a life of study, worship, fellowship, and prayer.
…we seek to serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
…we respect the dignity of each and every human being.
…we strive for justice and peace among all people.
All of this is rooted in the life of God in Christ.
At the core, it’s about acknowledging the presence of God in the other.
The way we seek and learn to love God is by loving other people.
Exploring the way of Jesus requires writing his way of life on our hearts in a way that it begins to permeate every fabric of our being.
Advent is an invitation to pursue a deeper relationship with God.
Advent is a time to commit or recommit ourselves to life in the way of Jesus.
Further, this is a wholly perfect time to invite others to come and see the promises of God made incarnate in Christ.
But what are we being invited into exactly when it comes to Advent?
Advent means waiting.
Waiting for the arrival of the Christ child.
Waiting for the return of Jesus.
Waiting for the promises of God in the vision of Isaiah to be fulfilled.
It is layered and paradoxical! We wait with both great anticipation and deep patience.
…undergirded by deep hope.
The path of the Christian life in Advent is patient anticipation undergirded by deep hope in the promises of God.
And so, you may ask, “What does this life in the path of God look like in Advent in 2013?”
One example that I would like to share is called the ADVENT CONSPIRACY.
This might be your first introduction to the AC, or if you read This Week at St. Patrick’s, you truly think that Loren and I are conspiring together!
The AC is a growing movement that was founded by 3 churches back in 2006, and it has 4 basic principles:
The promises of God are fulfilled and took form at the moment of the Incarnation, Word made flesh, a little baby, tiny fingers and all. Advent is about preparation for this event, being fully attentive and present to God in Christ. It begins with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. Love wins, peace reigns, and a new kingdom and way of life is ushered into this world. So the intent is to slow down, partner with the Kingdom of God, and worship Jesus to the fullest.
Don’t worry, I’m not going completely Scrooge on you. This isn’t a call to completely forego giving gifts. We all love to give and receive gifts. But consider this: in America, we spend an average of $450 billion a year every Christmas. That’s an incredible amount of money! And truthfully, there are always gifts given or received out of obligation. We have our favorites, but then there are the gifts that become forgotten. It is just stuff.
What we are asking is that you consider buying at least ONE LESS GIFT this year. Just one. If you’re ambitious, consider foregoing gifts that may not be remembered a year from now. These steps may seem insignificant at first, but they add up over time, creating space to be more present during Advent and Christmas.
I know what you’re thinking. “Wait, didn’t Dorian just say I should spend less, and yet here he is telling me to give more? What gives?” Well, instead of giving presents, give presence. The most powerful, memorable gift you can give to someone else is yourself. And nobody modeled this more than Jesus. So what does this look like for you? Coffee with a friend? A potluck and board game night with friends? Homemade fudge or cookies? Write letters to friends/family telling them why they are special to you. Give time at a homeless shelter or foodbank. The main point is simple: When it comes to spending time with those you love, it’s all about quality, not quantity.
The core of the message is love. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of love. And Jesus loved fully and wholly. He became lowly to love the poor and marginalized. He was always widening that circle, inviting the fringes into the full life of God and community. By spending just a little less on gifts we free up our resources to love as Jesus loves by giving to those who need help the most. The churches that founded AC gave to clean water initiatives because they learned that it would take $20 billion a year to provide clean water to everyone on earth (just a fraction of that $450 billion). For us, this is inspiration to give resources to those who God has put on your heart, like the ones supported by St. Patrick’s (Samaritan Ministries, St. Phillips, and others).
It seems daunting to look at the sheer size and depth of some of the issues in the world today, but engaging one relationship at a time is a beginning towards God’s promises.
And so that’s the Advent Conspiracy: one simple, practical way to follow the way of Jesus and walk in the path of God.
A path tuned towards self-giving.
A path that cultivates resources to benefit those in need.
A path that inspires a reorientation towards the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.
With Isaiah, Advent gives us a vision that proclaims the promise of God:
Life in relationship with God will lead towards reconciliation and peace.
We begin Advent with a vivid image of hope:
a holy mountain as the center of a kingdom of peace and equity
We begin Advent with an invitation to participate in God’s teachings and way of life:
a way of life that leads towards the reality of that hope.
So yes, we wait. But we do not wait passively. Patient anticipation.
What might we dare? What might we venture or risk, knowing that God promises peace?
O people of God, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!