Given to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican) on the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2022. Part of a three-part series on Isaiah & Advent: “It Shall Come to Pass: Waiting with Isaiah.”
Waiting with Isaiah
The joke is sometimes made that as soon as the last bite is taken or final guest excused from our Thanksgiving celebration, then begins Christmas! We would like to go from celebration to celebration, feast to feast. Waiting does not play well in our insta-culture.
But the Scriptures and the wisdom of the Church teach us differently. In the Bible, there is a rhythm in God’s Word itself of promise and fulfillment – longing and hope, followed by sure and certain answer. Advent and Lent are these seasons of preparation, repentance, and renewal. Advent particularly is the season of waiting – not only for Christ’s first coming, but for his second. Advent awakens us to watch with Christ, reminding us that to truly rejoice in Christmas, we have to see Jesus as more than the baby in the manger. Advents waits for Jesus’ return, Christmas rejoices in the wonder of the Incarnation. That’s the basic difference.
And who better to wait with than the prophet Isaiah! His book has sometimes been called the “Fifth Gospel” because it so clearly and profoundly speaks of our Lord. And the amazing thing is that Isaiah wrote his book hundreds of years before Christ. His prophecies are incredible for their bold detail of the ministry and mission of the Messiah.
Even more, Isaiah wrote during a period of impending judgment and under the threat of invasion. He wrote in a time where nothing seemed firm or solid. Sound familiar to you? This Advent, we’ll be waiting with Isaiah – hearing his message and it applying it.
So, in chapter 2, Isaiah receives the word of the Lord and sees a vision. He sees a time when the mountain of the house of the Lord will be exceedingly exalted above all others.
The Latter Days: Seeing Beyond the Horizon (vs. 1-2)
Notice first, the phrase “the latter days.” This is what the New Testament calls “the last days.” Ever since Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been living in these latter days seen by Isaiah! But for Isaiah, this would have been life beyond his horizon. Beyond what could be humanly done or expected!
Even this passage is interjected into Isaiah in a way that’s totally unexpected! Isaiah is in the middle of ridiculing God’s People for their sins. In chapter 1, he even calls them Sodom and Gomorrah (vs. 9-10) – that’s how bad it is! And yet, he sees a time when the whole world will participate in blessings out of Zion.
Isaiah is actually seeing the world and history from God’s perspective. One commentator says, “Isaiah’s book is a vision…that…reveals…a God-centered way of seeing and living. It offers everyone the true alternative to the false appearances of this world.”[i] That is especially true during the Christmas season!
There’s an Old Navy commercial running this holiday season that takes the trophy for being the worst 15 second commercial ever created. In it Jennifer Coolidge tells us that she is #sorrynotsorry. She sings, “’Tis the season for #giving. Giving is the best…blah, blah, blah!” Reactions to the commercial include:
- “I will seriously never spend money at any Old Navy store again after seeing this ad over and over on Hulu. Great job marketing team!”
- “I actively took my time out of my busy day to seek out this ad just to say how much I wish this never existed.”
- Exec 1: “Are you sure this ad will help us sell more clothes?” Exec 2: “Clothes?”
Here, I want to give us our yearly reminder that the way our culture lives from October 1-January 1 is largely insane. Advent is the antidote. Advent is the time when we are invited to get clear again! To see history and our lives from God’s angle. To declutter our vision, repent, and live faithfully in light of King Jesus’ soon coming. To see beyond the low horizon of our culture! Unlike Isaiah, we have the privilege of living on the other side of Christ’s first coming. He didn’t see that, but he faithfully proclaimed it until his death!
The Magnetism & Height of God’s House: Out of Zion (vs. 2-3)
First, Isaiah saw a time when people will be magnetically drawn to God’s house. Now, here, he’s talking about the Temple in Jerusalem, but it goes beyond just that one physical location. In fact, at the end of verse 2, he says that “all nations shall flow to it.” People everywhere will be able to reach it. And they will not climb, but be carried upstream as in a river to the highest point, which is not normally how rivers work! The river of the Holy Spirit carries us upstream!
Isaiah foresaw Pentecost and the coming of Christ’s Church – he saw the day when people from every nation, language, and tribe, would be drawn to Jesus like metal to a magnet. Jesus himself promised in John 12:32 that when he was lifted up on the Cross, he would then draw all people to himself. Ironically, it is the humility of God in the Cross of Jesus Christ, that results in his supreme exaltation in all the earth.
But then, the height. This is also ironic because Jerusalem is actually on more of a hill than a mountain. The Temple Mount is not that tall. In fact, its elevation is just over 2,400 feet. The Mount of Olives is 2,700 feet. But the Lord chose to make his name known in this place because he doesn’t need the highest mountain to be the most exalted!
Isaiah sees a time when the nations will choose, not syncretism or pluralism, but when they will willingly lay down their idolatry, bondage to sin and false gods for worship of the true and living God. This is Isaiah’s audacious claim from the Lord!
Here is a picture, not of “all paths lead to God,” but of the power of the Cross to make rebels willingly lay down their arms and become worshippers! As Christians, we’re part of that reality in our worship, and we get the privilege of calling others into, too.
As verse 4 makes clear, this peace involves all creation. This peace is known partially now, but fully when Christ comes again, to judge evil and those who refuse repentance, to set the world to rights, and to be acknowledged as the world’s true King.
Response: Walk in the light! (v.5)
Look lastly at verse 5. What response is Isaiah looking for from the church? If this is what’s coming, then how should we respond? Simply to walk faithfully in the light of the Lord.
Advent calls us to remember that God has sovereignly placed us in this time to live faithfully in light of his time – his soon coming Day. I am reminded of that memorable moment in The Fellowship of the Ring when Gandalf tells Frodo of the Ring’s history and what now must come. Frodo says, “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
The Lord desires of us that we would trust him and walk in his light, lighting our Advent candles with him. Every Advent teaches us that God is so much more patient than us! If it were up to you, how many of us would have, in this last year, brought the curtain down on human history? Roll the credits! But the Father, in mercy, says not yet.
There’s another side to this call to walk in the light. And that’s the possibility that each of us might actually walk in darkness. In fact, verse 6 makes clear that God’s people are walking in darkness and need to repent: “For you have rejected your people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of things from the east.” They are full, not of the Lord’s light, but Satan’s darkness! We need to hear the call of St. Paul again this Advent: “let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” We need to hear the words of our Lord when he tells us not to sleep or slumber, but to watch and wait! Now is the time and Advent is the space we’ve been given to do that work!
I want to end by giving you a prayer for Advent. It’s part of the Compline liturgy (prayer before bedtime), and I want to challenge you to make it part of your everyday routine in Advent. Either at dinner time, when you light your wreath, or before you to go to bed. The prayer is Simeon’s great Nunc Dimittis – “now you let depart” – which he prayed as he held Jesus in his arms in Luke 2:
Lord, now let your servant depart in peace,
according to your word.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
Which you have prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles,
and to be the glory of your people Israel.
Let this pray go to work on you: let it deepen your thankfulness for the light you have in Christ. Let it deepen your fellowship with him as you learn to trust him more. Let it draw out of you the shadows of death and sin which still remain, that Isaiah 2 may come to pass in you – that you would be drawn to the mountain and house of the Lord, there to dwell forever. Amen.
[i] ESV Study Bible, Introduction to Isaiah.