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First Sunday in Advent, 12/02/2007

Sermon on Isaiah 2:1-5, by Joseph R. Cunningham

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:


In the last days

the mountain of the Lord's temple

will be established

as chief among the mountains;

it will be raised above the hills,

and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

"Come, let us go up to the mountain

of the Lord,

to the house of the God of Jacob.

He will teach us his ways

so that we may walk in his paths."

The law will go out from Zion,

the word of the Lord from Jerusalem

He will judge between the nations

and will settle disputes for many peoples.

They will beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, O house of Jacob,

Let us walk in the light of the Lord. (NIV)





Do you remember as a child daydreaming what the future would bring?  I remember staring intently into another far away world, oblivious to my fourth grade teacher's attempt to engage me in the importance of diagramming sentences!  What a beautiful world I created.  It had everything I hoped and longed for.  No fighting -No hurting -unconditional acceptance - faithful friends - everything beautiful, perfect, peaceful.


Wake up!  Back to reality!  A rude awakening summons me back to a world of conflict, struggle, rejection, decay and death - all themes visited as the Church Year comes to an end with its poignant reminder that all this will come to an accelerating climax and then...!


Now it is Advent and the official Christmas shopping season begins.  "Black Friday," is now past as economists prognosticate the future based on this new economic indicator.  Will it be a gloomy consumer year lacking promise or a year of economic prosperity and vigor?


Entering this new Church Year confronts us with the tension of desiring a deliberate holy time of reflection and anticipation while the world around us busily enters a time of consumer turmoil.  It is however nothing compared to the tension revealed through the prophet Isaiah as it relates to the people of Judah in his day and the people of God of our day.


Isaiah first describes a time of destruction and desolation in Chapter 1 - Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil...Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate..." (Isaiah 1:4,7)   It is as if we get a picture of the end of all things right from the start.  And then, here in chapter 2 we hear a theme of hope beyond destruction just as we make ready to remember the coming of our Lord as a little child.  At the end of the last Christian year, the Old Testament readings returned to the beginning of things as we approached the end of the year and the celebration of the reign of Christ. Now as we start Advent we not only look to the coming of the Lord as the child of the Christmas season. We look way ahead to the fulfillment of all our hopes in him. We anticipate his reign even as we await the retelling of his birth. 


The time of this present age is bound up in a period that lies beyond time itself.  Everything we experience, our history, all that fills the news papers, network news and news channels, the events of each day, is not separated from God's reign in Christ - from eternity with God.  They belong to each other. What we do today, in our communities or as individuals, is related to that time beyond time. And what we say or believe about what is yet to come, beyond the present time, bears heavily on the way we live and perceive our life in today's reality. This is why we are reminded in Matthew's gospel account to "keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming...Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."  (Matthew 24:43-44).


In addition, as we prepare with anticipation the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we are reminded that the flesh and blood of humankind is the form that the one who reigns eternally, takes as his own. Our lives are caught up in the eternal, redeeming work of God in Christ.  The reign of Christ, finds its expression in the ordinary flesh and blood existence of the least of all human life - a little child.


It is this child who grew "in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor."

(Luke 2:52) Inserted into human history our Lord Jesus with deliberate purpose

entered into "Zion," the city of Jerusalem to ascend the "holy mountain."  He does

not dance in celebration before the Ark of the Covenant to claim Jerusalem and its

people as did King David (2 Samuel 6).  No - he humbly rides on the back of a

donkey's colt to the shouts of "Hosanna".  "Blessed is he who comes in the name of

the Lord" they cry and we with them!  This Jesus is our ark establishing a covenant

of forgiveness of sin and peace of heart.  This Jesus rises to the holy mountain to be

the sacrifice for your sins and mine and those of the whole world on "Black Friday"

- a "Good Friday."  This Jesus is our temple torn down stone by stone in death only

to be raised again in three days.  And we, his redeemed people are made to be its living stones.  In this way he claims Jerusalem, its people and all the world of every time and every place proclaiming an eternal economy of sins forgiven, peace restored and a "New Jerusalem" established for all eternity.  What the prophet foretells comes to pass -  though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

All this comes through the cross of Christ firmly planted on that holy mountain beckoning all people every where to receive the reconciling love of God in Christ Jesus.  This holy mountain rises to the heights of heaven offering us, in the midst of death, destruction and desolation, hope - life, an everlasting love and peace that surpasses all our understanding.  (Philippians 4:7)


The prophet Isaiah presents a world of perfect peace where swords and spears, instruments of death, are turned into implements that nurture life.  War is a thing of the past as nation upon nation is invited to the house of God that all may live in justice and in peace.  This is the "New Jerusalem" not fully realized yet in this world.  While war and conflict rages in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Sudan, our cities, neighborhoods and families, we the people of God are entrusted with a stewardship of a source of peace that surpasses all our  understanding. It is the message of the cross, the tree of life offered to all that welcomes all and provides healing to the nations, our communities and families.  It is God's intention that our communities of faith, the Church, be this place of peace and justice - mercy freely offered and lived.


This is God's vision for all the world - a promise of everlasting peace that begins within our selves as a holy work of God and permeates through all our relationships.  Each day the news communicates the horror of division that ends in abuse, murder and war.  In Advent we await the coming of our Lord, the prince of peace.  Let our waiting be filled with prayers for peace throughout the world and justice for all who suffer the ravages of such division and war.  Let peacemaking be not just a dream of a far away world but a reality possible now.  The reality is that we are free to truly engage the world, to serve this world without fear because we know that our future is held secure in God's gracious hands.   This is God's divine reality for us all!  Thanks be to God.  With all the Church everywhere we pray - "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly."  Amen.

The Rev. Joseph R. Cunningham
University Pastor
Dean of the Chapel of the Resurrection
Valparaiso University
Valparaiso, Indiana

E-Mail: Joseph.Cunningham@valpo.edu