Saturday, December 21, 2019

Finding Our Hope--First Sunday of Advent, Dec. 1, 2019

Year C, Advent 1, Dec. 1, 2019, SMHP
Sermon Reading                                                                                      Isaiah 2:1-5
          The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
          2In 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. 3Many 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 God may teach us the ways of the Lord, and we may walk in God’s paths.”
          For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4The Lord 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. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Response       (You are invited to read the text in bold.)                           Psalm 122
1I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
2Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
8For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”
9For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.

          Advent is the greatest season of the church year, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.  Just kidding—I’m a pacifist. 
          But it is.  In Advent, we consider the whole world, the arc of human history, the strange specter of the “end times.”
          And most importantly, the promise of God. 
          [Slide] Each of the four weeks of Advent comes with its own theme: 
·       Hope
·       Peace
·       Joy
·       Love
          Advent is an opportunity, to relax into the more contemplative winter season and tend to our spiritual lives, in anticipation of the first of the two great festivals of the year:  The Feast of the Nativity…Christ Mass.
          We will be spending our Advent with the prophet Isaiah.  The lectionary offers us wonderful texts from Isaiah for each of the four Sundays in Advent, so I want to spend just a moment this morning setting the stage for our time with this amazing prophet.
          The book of Isaiah is the third longest of the prophetic books, but the most important to us as Christians, because of its focus on God’s promise and the coming of the Messiah.  You will see in the coming weeks that Isaiah paints a vivid picture of the future savior whom God will send to ransom a people gone astray.
          The context of the whole book is a bit tricky.  Scholars now (mostly) agree that this book is likely the work of more than one writer, writing in more than one time period.  Whether there are two or three distinct time periods is now a matter of debate, but this much is pretty settled:  the first 39 chapters of the book are written by the prophet Isaiah, who introduces himself in the first chapter and begins to outline his vision in Chapter Two, beginning with our lesson for this morning.
          [Slide] All of our lessons this Advent will come from that book, which was compiled during the long service of a prophet appointed to serve the kings of the southern kingdom of Judah.  Isaiah served from the second half of the eight century BCE until approximately a quarter of the way through the seventh.
          It was a time of division and upheaval.  [Slide] Israel, had been united under the first of the great kings, Saul, then David, then Solomon.  But things kind of fell apart after that.  Under Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, the kingdom was divided.  The Northern Kingdom retained the name, Israel, while the Southern Kingdom became known as Judah.
          Isaiah was a prophet in Judah, which was more stable during that time, the time of the first great conquest.  [Slide] The Empire of Assyria was in the process of conquering the Northern Kingdom, a conquest in which they were eventually successful.  Assyria took over the north, moving many Israelites to its stronghold in present-day Iran, and moving Gentiles into the Northern Kingdom to dilute the bloodlines and allegiances. Israel tried to get its southern neighbors to help it, but Isaiah counseled his king to stay out of the conflict.  This king actually listened to his prophet, and the southern kingdom remained intact until the time of Second Isaiah, during the Babylonian conquest.
          Things were still rough in that Southern Kingdom.  At one point, the Northern Kingdom of Israel invaded Judah, trying to get it to form an alliance.  Assyria mostly played nice with Judah, but they were a constant threat.  And then a renewed monarchy in Egypt began to threaten from the south.
          People began to divide into alliance—let’s call them political parties—each with a different answer to the great problems of the day.  One party urged strong borders and racial purity.  Another promoted openness, diversity, and state-funded social programs. 
          Imagine it, if you can.
          Imagine trying to find a word of hope for those people, fairly safe in their own country, but concerned about attacks of all kinds from outside their borders, and division in their own land.
          Imagine, being a prophet to those people.  What word of hope would you bring, could you bring.
          Let’s do that—imagine together.  Find another person or two, and talk about this, just for a couple of minutes.  What word of hope would you offer to a people who feel divided and threatened?

--Collect answers

          It is fair to say that this Advent, as God’s prophetic people, a people who have accepted a mission to build hope and proclaim peace, we are searching for a word of hope to offer our neighbors.  I believe we will find it in a couple of places.  First, in each other—in the wisdom collected in this very place, this beautiful, beautiful, warm and toasty place.
          Second, this Advent, we will find a word of hope by listening carefully to the great prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah’s first word of promise, before us this morning, is a recipe for hope.  Isaiah speaks of the days to come, which is both a promise and a challenge.  The “days to come” will arrive when we decide to venture up to the mountain of the Lord’s house, which is more a mindset than a place.
          The mountain of the Lord’s house is where we go when we realize that our ways ain’t working, and perhaps we should try a different way.  When we are willing to place ourselves in God’s hands, beat our swords into plowshares, and be people of peace.
          People of hope and people of peace.  That is who we are.  And our task for this Advent is to seek and find the ways that God is drawing us into hope.  And peace. 
          Then to step into the shoes of the great prophet Isaiah and share that word with our neighbors.  Our neighbors are struggling to find hope. Our neighbors are struggling to find peace.
          Let us find it ourselves this Advent, people of God.  And then let us share it widely.

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