A sermon preached at Lyonsville Congregational United Church of Christ on December 1, 2013 (First Sunday of Advent/Communion Sunday)
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 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. 4He 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! – Isaiah 2:1-5
Today begins the Christian season of Advent – the four Sundays of expectant waiting and preparation for Christmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus – which means a “coming.” Something is coming – something wonderful. It is a time of hope – hope that our lives and our world can be better. And in order for our lives and our world to be better, we must recognize that they are not now what we would like them to be – what we believe they can be.
Advent is like waiting for the dawning light of an exciting new day. I remember the day in July, 1979 when Jill and I — married less than two years — moved from our apartment in Green Bay, Wisconsin to a new home in Boulder, Colorado. It was an exciting adventure for us, who had never lived that far from our childhood homes and our families. It was scary – we had no idea where we were going to live when we got there. Jill had no idea what kind of work she would find to do. Our rental truck was packed with all our worldly possessions. We spent one last night in the empty apartment trying to sleep, but the hours just seemed to creep by – there was just too much to think about and wonder about. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that kind of anticipation, but that is what Advent is supposed to be like.
What are we waiting and preparing for? Christmas – the celebration of Jesus’ birth, certainly. That is an exciting day of presents and family gatherings and presents and remembered traditions and presents and Santa and …. did I mention presents? There is much to prepare for before we’re ready for Christmas to come! May we all find some sense of peace and mystery in the midst of the activity!
But I treasure Isaiah’s poetic, prophetic vision as something to hope for, wait for, prepare for: humanity emerging from the darkness of selfish greed that fuels violence — into the light of mutual respect and care; weapons of war transformed into farming implements because they aren’t needed any more; disagreements mediated wisely and justly, and peacefully. That is a vision I not only hope for – I am willing to give my life, my labor, and my treasure for it (as long as it doesn’t cost too much!).
But I believe it will never become a reality by my own efforts alone – or by the efforts of humanity alone. It will take more than knowledge, or better technology, or better healthcare, or more money. It will require God’s creative power, and God’s wisdom, and God’s love. God sent Jesus Christ to us in order to help make that vision a reality.
We live in a time when many Americas are leaving or rejecting the church. I must admit they sometimes have valid criticisms. In an age of science and reason, our faith seems to be based on unbelievable stories and superstition and belief in a God that no one can really prove. And through the course of its history, the church has sometimes been greedy, power-hungry, and violent itself. Those who are part of the church sometimes seem to make themselves feel better by condemning others. For these and many other reasons, many have decided that the church is irrelevant to life today, or even worse – dangerous and destructive. I think it is important for all of us to understand the criticisms of the church.
But if the church of Jesus Christ were to disappear, I don’t think our world would be better off. On the contrary, we would have even less hope of realizing that vision that Isaiah gives us. It would be a world of darkness with very little light. And what is more, I think that even people who are frustrated by the church sense that. Underneath the human failings and misguided efforts of Christians through the ages, there is still a bright light at the center that attracts people.
There was an article in the Chicago Tribune a few Sundays ago about a woman who is an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church who seems to be the very antithesis of what most people think a minister should be. Nadia Bolz-Weber wears jeans and shows off her many tattoos, and speaks with profanities. She is a former drug addict. And she has started a new church in Denver that attracts an array of society’s “outsiders”, but also respectable businessmen and grandmothers. And it attracts folks who have gotten disgusted with the church and left for a while.
Rev. Bolz-Weber doesn’t think they are looking for a church that teaches rules of morality and successful living and encourages people to recycle (although those aren’t bad things) – which is what many churches have become over the course of time. People are looking for the life transforming Christ who suffers with us, and asks us to die to ourselves in order that we can be reborn. She says religion should be “something that’s so devastatingly beautiful it can break your heart.”
The church hasn’t always kept this beautiful, transforming Christ at its center. We Christians haven’t always kept Christ at the center of our lives. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus once again this year, it may seem like an event that happened long ago, but we need to realize that we haven’t been quite willing to let Christ rule completely in the church, and we haven’t been willing to let Christ into all aspects of our lives. At least I haven’t. But there is hope that this year that can change!
Isaiah had a vision of the mountain of the Lord’s house being established as the highest of the mountains, and of many nations and peoples coming to it in order that God might teach them God’s ways. That temple in Jerusalem that Isaiah knew no longer stands; the church is now the place where – hopefully – people can learn about this God and experience God at work among us. If we fervently pray that Christ will be present among us, and if we walk in the light of the LORD – following in the ways of Christ, then many people will see it, and want to come to us to learn about God’s justice and God’s peace.
As Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us, the time is NOW. It’s time to wake up!
So get ready. Christ is coming, and wants to dwell here among us. A new day is dawning. Something wonderful is coming.
Robert J. von Trebra