Hope for the World

Today’s reading is Isaiah 2:1-5Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Sam.

We’re beginning advent by looking at some of the words of the prophet Isaiah, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. Which tell of a promised hope.

The first five chapters of Isaiah are largely setting the scene. They tell the story of a people who have walked away from God.

These first few chapters make for bleak reading, repeated mistakes and intentional times they have gone away from what is right. Abuse of the poor, mistreatment of foreigners, and a complete change of direction from a family called to be a blessing to the world to a group of individuals who are focused entirely on themselves.

We see parallels of this in our world, in our country and if we’re really honest, in ourselves.

And in between these bleak messages of condemnation, sit these tiny glimpses of hope. A faint whisper that all is not lost. Specks of gold shining in the dirt.

These five verses we have read today are a picture of that hope. That knowledge that a rescuer is coming, the dream they are longing for deep within is being birthed and it will come to fruition.

Let’s look at this passage verse by verse and then we’ll pull out what we can learn from it.

Verse 1

Isaiah, the person who wrote this book, son of Amoz, not to be confused with Amos, saw this vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

At the time Israel, as we think of it in the Old Testament, had been fractured in two. After King David’s son Solomon died, there was a push from several parties to rule the land. From army generals, from members of the royal line, it was a complete mess and they eventually split into two nations, Israel in the North, and Judah in the South.

This promise was for the southern kingdom of Judah. That’s not vital to know, but it alludes to one of the names of Jesus, who *spoiler alert* is that promised rescuer. He’s the Lion of Judah, and we’ll see time and time again in the book of Isaiah that his coming is alluded to. There are these little hints that we go back to in the Old Testament and they show that of course this is the man who was also God and it builds up that the story of the Bible was always pointing to him.

Verse 2

‘The mountain of the Lord’s temple.’

Isaiah is talking of God’s presence being visible to all. This mountain being referred to here is Mount Moriah, it was visible to everyone no matter where you were in Jerusalem. What this is saying is that God’s presence will be for all, rich or poor, lucky or unfortunate in life, it doesn’t matter whether you live on the right side of town or the rough side, everyone can see the mountain.

‘All the nations will stream to it’

People will not be attracted to it because it’s pretty, it will be attractive because it is where God is. It is obvious that something is different about this.

Verse 3

He goes on to unpack this attractiveness in verse 3. Notice the difference here between what our experience is, the experience of historical parts of the Bible and this promised future. When large crowds are gathered to follow God and are attracted to him, they almost always dissipate when they are actually required to change. Think of the Hebrew people in the desert, initially attracted to the spectacle and drama of Moses going up the mountain to receive word from God but who ultimately turn away when they are required to actually change. Or Palm Sunday, when there are crowds walking with Jesus up the hills from Jericho in the Valley, to Jerusalem way up on the hill. Again, this very visual idea of them journeying up to the mountain with God, they celebrate and worship Jesus when he is a celebrity and spectacle entering Jerusalem but by the end of that week, Good Friday, almost all of them have almost deserted him when the teaching is too tough.

But this promises a future where people will both be attracted to Jesus’ presence but will also want to follow him and ‘walk in his paths’.

Verse 4

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples

The promise here is a world that is fair, where nations do not steal and plunder from nations they invade and oppress. Where national policy is not set by whichever political party is popular, but by a higher eternal perspective. Where we, on a macro scale, first examine what would be best for others around the world before we make policy.

That feels so far from our reality. It’s taken a back seat to COVID but imagine if these brexit negotiations first started with how we as an independent nation can best ensure that Europe thrives? How counter cultural but how beautiful could that be? That’s the world that Isaiah promises is coming.

They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

This is a beautiful metaphor of the weapons of war being repurposed, remade into farming equipment. That which brought death becoming that which brings and encourages life. This speaks of both the physical things but also the innermost parts of our lives. Nothing good will be lost in this future but all will be repurposed in an irreversible way.

Notice the way that the passage in verses 3&4 twice moves from our individual change to a corporate change. From us receiving the law, to the nations accepting the law. From individuals laying down their arms, to nations declaring as they join in this everlasting peace.

And that is our part, as followers of the way, those who have seen this hope, to be those individuals and lead the way. To be pioneers of this incredible hope amidst the backdrop of our broken world.

How then do we live in this tension, those who have seen this hope or who are maybe struggling to see this hope in the world?

I have a photo on my desk of a retreat I went on with some friends in February. We climbed up Waun Fach in the Brecon Beacons on this stunning Spring day. It was a time of refreshment, of bathing in the beauty and of listening to God for the season we were in, reflecting on what God was calling us to and doing in us while were at college. It was also a lot of fun.

But for us the reality is that we couldn’t live up there. That was right for the day we were there, and time and space were vital for hearing God in a way that we couldn’t in normal city and family life. But if you look at the mountain landscape, it’s sparse, it’s empty and it’s not full of life.

God invites us in this period of waiting, this in between times, to climb the mountain and join him. But it’s in the valley where life grows. It’s in the messy, the loud, the real life where we will see God at work. And so as we wait, as we build towards Christmas, take time to climb the mountain, to be alone with God to seek him and his presence. And bring that hope with you back down into the valley, to your work, your friendships, your family life.

And that is the season we’re in. A season where we can see a promised future but it’s not here yet. Advent starts today. This is a season of waiting, of expectancy.

In the very earliest version of the Advent tradition, the build up to Christmas, it was a 40 day period, much like lent in the lead up to Easter. 40 in the Bible is a number which symbolises a period of change. 40 days of flooding for Noah, 40 years in the desert for the Israelites, 40 days of taunting from the giant Goliath, 40 days of Jesus in the wilderness, 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. After these periods, the world was never the same again.

And as we journey with this over the next four Sundays, we look towards a time when God came down, became a fragile baby and joined us in the valley, in the messy, uncomfortable real life, that we might know him and be able to climb the hill of God and meet him face to face.

I’ll end with verse 5 from our passage.

As we wait for this promised hope, what does God require of us. It says this.

“Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

There will be a video version of the service.

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