Today is the first Sunday of Advent. For those of us who pay attention to the Church calendar, Advent is the beginning of the Church year. The church from the times of the Apostles begins a new year not on January first, but on the first Sunday of advent.
Why, does the church follow a different calendar than the twelve-month calendar? The reason is to remind, teach, and to build our faith because the church is founded on the promise fulfilled and the promise yet to come. Jesus Christ, the son of God, became God with us, God incarnate, God with flesh and blood and feelings and the greatest love for humanity ever to have walked the face of this earth. This is the promise God made through the prophets and the promise was fulfilled. Jesus himself made a promise, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you1 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (Jn. 14:2-3 ESV) This is the promise to come.
When the crowd gathered on the side of a mountain to watch Jesus ascend into heaven after the resurrection, two witnesses, (likely angels) said, “While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, a “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11 ESV).
This is what advent is about. It is about hope and anticipation of the promise. Just as it was foretold that Jesus would come we await his promised return.
Today, to help us with our waiting, we look back to one of the prophets who foretold Jesus coming, the prophet Isaiah. Prophets were not magical men. Prophets were ordinary people who God used in an extraordinary way to be God’s voice to the people. Prophets were not future tellers of doom. Prophets were broadcasters of opportunity and possibility. Prophets spoke out of divine decrees and out of the mystery of grace.
Prophets could be described as soul welders. And what is a soul welder? A welder joins (bonds) metals together to become one piece. Welding requires elements that are able to bond. Prophets were used to strive to bond the purpose of humanity with the desire of God with the result of making the two into one.
The prophet’s task was not easy. Often the people allowed the world to so corrupt them that the words of the prophet had no place to produce a weld. There was no place to join God and the people. The results were never good for those involved.
It was the desire of Isaiah to be an instrument through which lives could be bonded together with a bond of hope and of anticipation. A hope that would hold when the world around us breaks down. A hope welded to of the coming Kingdom of God. It is a hope that seeks to relocate our happiness, our joy, and our confidence not in the certainty of what is to come, not in the precariousness of the now but in Jesus’s love and promise.
In the passage today, the prophet Isaiah speaks about a future, a future promised to God’s chosen people. And while the promise is addressed to Judah and Jerusalem, its intent is much more inclusive. For the prophet is giving a promise in which all who seek God, all who understand their need for God, and all who hope for the peace that only God can bring to humanity are included. This means we are included.
Listen again to verse two, “The Lord’s mountain.” Mountains can be some of the most impressive and beautiful places on this earth. From the top of some of the largest mountains in the US, you can see over 150 miles. In Anchorage, Alaska you can see Mt. Denali from 160 miles away.
Isaiah is letting us know that looking toward the Lord’s mountain, you can see beyond the extent of time, beyond the threshold of human folly and failure. You can see the future that Advent awaits.
Throughout the Scripture, mountains have had a profound spiritual influence. It was upon a mountain that Abraham demonstrated his faith, offering his son in complete trust in God. It was upon a mountain that Moses encountered the burning bush through which God, the great I AM spoke. It was upon Mt. Sinai that God gave the Ten Commandments to the chosen people. It was on a mountaintop that Elijah challenged and defeated the false prophets and their false God, Baal. It was in a cave on a mountain that Elijah fled out of fear of Queen Jezebel and where God spoke to him in a still small voice. As a physical place, mountains have more than their share of sacred sites.
In the New Testament where we are given the story of Jesus, of how Angels come to shepherds on a mountainside to tell of Jesus’s birth. It is upon a mountain where Satan takes Jesus to tempt him. It is on the side of a mountain where Jesus gives the sermon that gives us insight into being blessed and on another mountainside where he feeds the thousands from a few loaves and fishes. It was on a mountaintop where Jesus was transfigured before three of his disciples and walked with Moses and Elijah. And then, there is Mt. Calvary where Jesus gave his life for us on the cross followed by the Mt. of Ascension where Jesus returned to heaven to prepare a place for us and from where he will return for us. Yes, there is no doubt mountains play a significant role in the human/divine drama.
Mountain-top experiences can give us insight, direction, understanding, and hope. But climbing to the top of a mountain is not easy. It can be an exhausting; painful, and testing experience for even people in the best of shape. I believe this is why God has Isaiah use this imagery for the promise that is to come.
The work of waiting is not easy for most of us. The practice of spiritual preparation is not always a human priority. To go against the slope of our culture is not convenient. So why would this vision of a prophet who lived so long ago matter to us?
If you have not noticed, our world is becoming a more hostile, volatile, uncivil, depraved, and depersonalized place every year, every cycle of the calendar. Perhaps you have noticed the world is pushing people more and more toward an existence of consumption, addiction, perversion, and lack of direction. Many, many people live their lives trying simply to avoid pain, seek pleasure, and try to escape the reality that time is against us and the unexpected to strike at any time. Death is the house and the house always wins.
Maybe you have noticed changes in your own life. Perhaps you have come to realize that you cannot always avoid pain and illness, the anxiety of trouble. Perhaps you thought, even if just briefly that you are mortal and death is coming. Many try hard to avoid such thoughts by ignoring them, denying them, or finding a way to escape from them. But the time will come. Maybe, you have discovered the truth every human being comes to experience, if you base your happiness on this world and what it offers you will face disappointment, loss, and sorrow.
We don’t have to live in this deception. We can choose to climb the mountain. Yes, it is hard.
The Psalmist asks the question, Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.1 Selah (Ps. 24:3-6 ESV) We cannot do this alone, but we don’t have to.
Listen again to verse 5, “come, let us walk in the light of the LORD. (Isa. 2:5 ESV) We can walk with God. God who has come and lived with us. God who wants to dwell in our hearts. The God who is the prince of peace, who will end the strife and sorrow and suffering of humanity once and for all.
George Burns, the long-lived comedian, once said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring close-knit family, who lives in another city.”
No, happiness is the experience of a mountain-top experience with Jesus who brings us into the forever family of God. It is worth the wait, the preparation, the challenges and embracing the promise of Advent. This is the time, this is the season