Preached on December 1, 2019 at PC of Chestertown
Isaiah 2:1-5 – Advent 1
I can’t wait to go on vacation at the end of the month. I can’t wait for spring. I can’t wait for field hockey season to begin again in just 255 days! I can’t wait for my some of my best friends to get married next year.
I can’t wait until there is no need for food pantries and homeless shelters. I can’t wait until children go to school without the fear of being murdered. I can’t wait for our political debates to be focused on the good of all people, rather than on slander and degradation. I can’t wait until the news reports only good things.
I could go on and on, naming the things I can’t wait for. I’m sure you can too.
Advent begins today. A time of waiting, of preparing for the birth of Christ, for God to come among us. But this year during Advent, we’re going to be talking about what cannot wait.
As you heard in the candle lighting liturgy, we can wait for all kinds of things – coffee, traffic, phone calls, and weekends. Probably I can wait for spring weather and field hockey season. But we can’t wait for hope.
Isaiah has hope. In the first chapter of his book, he describes how Israel has forsaken God. They have been misled. They have been unfaithful. But Isaiah sees something better for the people and for God. Isaiah sees hope. The prophet has a vision of the day of the Lord, the day when God’s house will be established on the highest mountain, towering above all other mountains for all to see.
And all nations will stream to it. Peoples from every walk of life, from every corner of the earth, will come to the mountain, to the house of the Lord. They will flood to God’s holy dwelling.
What can be found on this mountain that’s so magnetic, so attractive? Why will people be streaming there?
To learn God’s ways. To follow in God’s path. To learn peace. To witness justice. To replace destruction with life. To experience unity. To see an end to war. To walk in the light of the Lord.
The Gospel lesson builds on this vision of Isaiah, describing the day when Christ will return. No one knows when it will happen. No one can plan for it, only prepare for it. Only hope for it.
People have been waiting a long time for that day, the day when God’s kingdom will be established. The day when the world will finally be at peace, when all will worship God. Many have hoped that they would see it in their time. And yet, here we wait.
There are some among us who live without hope, who find it inconceivable that the world we live in could be any different than it is. There are too many terrible people and diseases. There is too much damage to the earth. There is too much division between political parties and races and economic classes. There are too many religious people judging others and pushing their agenda.
Some of us look around and find that hope is hard to come by. It’s too late. It’s not worth it.
I get that. I really feel that some days.
And yet, we know that hope has accomplished some pretty incredible things. We know that those who have desired more and expected better, have flipped the script. Our world has been transformed in countless ways by those who had hope.
Isaiah says: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Isaiah sees a world where we are all faithful to God. Isaiah describes the day when we choose to follow God’s ways, indicating our trust in God’s promises. On this day, God’s hope becomes our hope.
This hope is not passive. Hope is not something we simply think about. It is not enough to expect, to believe, to anticipate. It is active.
To walk in the light of the Lord, is to live with hope. To live with hope, is to see the new day which God is ushering in – dreaming of it, reaching for it, working towards it, living for it.
It’s easy to be hopeful – to wish and ponder and imagine. But when God came among us, when Christ was born, we were tasked with doing much more. We have been called to not only live with hope, but to act with hope. Hope can’t wait.
So, what does active, unrelenting hope look like? How can we walk in the light of the Lord with anticipation and expectation of God’s promised day?
To pray is to have hope, believing that God listens and that God will act. To show up in this place, week in and week out, is to have hope that our God is real and worthy of our worship. To forgive is to have hope that relationships can be restored. To serve others is to have hope that even the smallest things that we do will make a difference in someone’s life and will provide a glimpse of God’s love.
Isaiah writes of swords being transformed into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks – weapons for battle turned into tools which bring life and abundance. Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes that hope results in transformation, that we move from “battleground to fertile garden.”[i]
This is radical, theological hope, hope which takes that which is destructive and turning it into something creative and life giving. This is the kind of hope which can be challenging to envision, but Isaiah has seen it. Christ embodies it. And we strive towards it.
This kind of hope is revealed in a young girl like Malala risking her life for an education, not only for herself but for all girls and women in Pakistan and beyond. It’s teenagers who believe that our schools and world can be safer, that lives can be saved, with gun violence prevention. It’s people who install see-saws and paint beautiful murals at the border between the United States and Mexico.
I know that there was another school shooting last week. I know that there was a stabbing in London on Friday. I know there are flash floods in Kenya and that the nuclear arms race doesn’t seem to be slowing down. I know that there is a really messy situation in our White House and that finding common ground and the truth seems impossible. I know that there are way too many hungry and homeless people, many of them children.
That’s why hope can’t wait.
To quote our candle lighting liturgy, we have lit this candle of hope “as a reminder and as a prayer that we might stop waiting and start living, stop watching and start moving.” It may be the first Sunday of Advent – the beginning of the church year, the time of anticipating Jesus’ arrival – but the hope God gives us calls us to live with the end in mind.
We can’t wait to walk in the light of the Lord, to wait for someone else to do and say what we should.
Hear this quote from Jill Duffield:
“Advent is a wake-up call to our human limits. We do not know the day or hour of our end or of Christ’s return. We do know, however, that our days will end and Christ will return. We do know that we will be judged and we do know that the judge is Jesus Christ. We do know that God is patient, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We do know that Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it. We do know that the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established and all nations will stream to it. We do know that God will bring an end to war and that salvation is nearer to us than ever before. If we are awake and alert, on the lookout for these certain truths, how then will we live?”[ii]
We will live with hope. Because hope can’t wait. Amen.