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Hope for the World: A World for Hope

Advent 1 Common Lectionary Year A

Isaiah 2:1-5

 

© Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Scripture and sermon audio files

 

“They shall turn their swords into ploughshares,

their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war any more.”

 

Some of the most inspiring, hope-for-the-world

words ever written,

pregnant with such graphic imagery

that they have inspired some of the public art we just saw on the screen.

It’s hard NOT to see exactly what Isaiah “saw” in this Word of God.

 

And yet a chapter earlier the same prophet

word-painted its horrific opposite in equally graphic detail:

“Ah sinful nation, people laden with iniquity,

offspring who are evildoers,

children of corruption

who have despised the Holy One of Israel,

who have estranged themselves utterly!”

…Your city lies desolate, burned to the ground,

overrun with invaders,

its survivors left to scrabble

in the wasted land.”

 

Which one is it, Isaiah?

Which vision is the true Word of God that you saw?

Is it the iniquity, callousness and utter desolation,

or is it the holy mountain to whom the nations stream

in shafts of peaceful light?

Which do you see?

Which do you find easier to believe to be true?

 

Ooph, that’s the question isn’t it?

Many of us have little difficulty in believing

that our world is going to hell in a hand basket, and fast.

That it looks just like Isaiah’s picture of desolation.

As one fellow preacher opined on her blog earlier this week,

“How on earth do we begin an Advent with hope

when our hearts are broken and in despair at the state of the world around us?”[1]

 

And this is where we need to take Isaiah’s double vision

as seriously as possible.

If he could see, as we do, what happens to the world

when it is left to the worst of our proclivities,

then we surely ought to try as hard as he does

to see what happen to the world

when God breaks in.

 

Because the reality is, both visions are true,

it is both/and,

not either/or,

it is not yet and already.

The world is both broken and blessed.

There is light in its darkness.

It is bent low by despair,

and yet cranes forward in hope.

Can you see?

 

So, when Isaiah says

“days are coming”

when people of different tongues, races, nations find peace,

when weapons of destruction are replaced by tools for building community,

this is no “sweet by and by” barely believable sop for the overly gullible,

it is a “here and now” vision of possible reality,

for those who are prepared to imagine a world for hope.

 

Advent hope lies in the belief that

the “coming days” of God’s Dream lived out

between people, within creation,

has happened, is happening now, and will always keep happening.

It is now and to come.

 

Can you see, did you see,[2]

Cambodia’s Killing Fields transformed to rice paddies,

as land mines are cleared, and farmers can nourish their nation?

Hope for the world. A world for hope.

 

Can you see, did you see,

Muslim and Christian women wearing white, the colour

of peace and life,

in Liberia, linking arms in vigil around the government building

until the civil war finally came to an end?

A world for hope.

 

Can you see, did you see,

in the aftermath of New Zealand’s

hate crime attack on Muslim worshippers in Christchurch,

the passing of a law to ban completely semi-automatic weapons?

Hope for the world.

 

Can you see, did you see,

Talibe children, washed, housed, fed

learning to play, and write and read,

and earn a meaningful living?

A world for hope.

 

Can you see, did you see,

Mr. Rogers breaking the race barrier

so gently, yet so powerfully?

Hope for the world. A world for hope.

 

Can you see, did you see,

a Muslim woman teaching us, showing us

the face of peaceful, non-violent justice?

Hope for the world. A world for hope.

 

Can you see, did you see,

yourselves climbing up the mountain of the Lord,

marching for women’s rights and girls’ rights?

for climate justice? for pride?

Hope for the world. A world for hope.

 

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz

saw concerning the people of God

is a word which includes us

in living the dream of God.

Therein lies hope for the world.

Therein lies a world for hope.

 

Amen.

 

[1] Sarah Bessey. Does Advent Matter? https://sarahbessey.substack.com/

[2] “Did you see?” refers back to the slide/photos shown during the reading of the Scripture.

Scripture Advent 1A

Today, as we start the Christian Year all over again, we begin, not with the birth of the Christ child, but with the pregnant season of anticipation, longing, desire for God’s inbreaking into a world that has slipped off its axis because we humans aren’t so good at maintaining God’s Dream for justice/peace/love/abundance.

In this lectionary year A, the Old Testament (or pre-Christian) scriptures are all selections taken from the book we know as Isaiah.

The book as it is found in our Bible is actually a huge compilation of prophetic oracles spanning generations of prophets, whose particular vision of God’s Dream was similar to that of the historical figure after whom the book is named. And he is Isaiah, son of Amoz, who lived and worked as a court or temple prophet/seer in Jerusalem during the reign of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah.

That places him in history on the turn from the 8th into 7th century before Christ; a time when Judah is being pinched and squeezed into political and military alliances that twist and distort the kingdom from the nation of blessing that God has dreamt for it to be.

In the chapter before our reading today,Isaiah paints a brutally honest picture of a nationengaging in bribery, violence, systemic injustice,moral depravity, vacuous religious ostentation,ripe for a season of divine justice to right these wrongs.

Enter our reading, where Isaiah now pans from a rotten present,to a yet-to-come future “In days to come.”And he begins with this striking phrase:

“The Word of God which Isaiah SAW.”

He preaches, prophesies not just for the ear, but for the eye!

So, taking my cue from Isaiah ben Amoz, we’ll read together, and we’ll pause throughout the reading to be provoked by some images I’ve selected,

so that we can train our soul’s eye to “see” God’s word as it might appear not only in Isaiah’s generation, but also in ours.

The Word of God which Isaiah saw concerning God’s people.

In days to come Mount Zion, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
 [slides]

    And all the nations shall stream to the mountain of God. Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Holy One, to the house of the God of Jacob;

[slides]
There, God will teach us God’s Dream, God’s Way

so that we may walk in God’s paths and live fully the life we were created to live.”

[slides]

God shall judge between the nations, God will arbitrate among all peoples,

And then they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;

[slides]

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

[slides]

O house of Jacob, children of God,
    come, let us walk, let us live
    in the light of the Lord!

[slides]

This is the hopeful witness of ancient Israel Thanks be to God.

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