I think my computer is dying. This is after Maddie’s laptop died when she happened to be home. Funny how it decided to wait until she got home, so I couldn’t just say, well, see what you can do! Now it becomes my responsibility. And it was Black Friday. So, Rhys and I ventured out, not at the crack of dawn, but later in the afternoon when things had calmed down. Sort of. A little. I hope. Anyway, I bought a new computer for Maddie and got it home and set it up for her (she’s attending a wedding in Michigan (who gets married the weekend of Thanksgiving?). But once I set it up, I didn’t like it and now I’m trying to clear it off so that I can take it back and switch it for a better one. Sigh. And mine is making funny noises now. Ink pens and yellow legal pads anyone?
Life used to be simpler, didn’t it? Or is that my imagination. There does seem to be a longing to go back, to a simpler time, to a greater time. A time when everything made sense. But did such a time ever really exist? Oh there were times when I thought I had it all figured out, when things were easier for me. And no doubt there were times easier for you. But was it easier for everyone? I remember when I felt like everything was pretty simple, but I didn’t realize the anxiety that my parents were under to give me my simple life. And choices that I now question were made out of a fear of the moment and a desire to provide, and it made sense at the time.
Because our vision is limited. That seems to be our problem. We can’t see well. We can’t see what we need to see. We can’t see God at work in the world and we are left to muddle through with the best we can. And our best often isn’t enough. What we see troubles us, limits us, divides us. What we see is what’s in front of our faces, the problems to solve and the roadblocks to navigate. But what if we could see better, See farther. See more. See the Word at work?
Isaiah 2:1-5 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 In 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. 3 Many 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. 4 He 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. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
We usually skip to the prophecy, and rightly so. It is what is so compelling, what is so radical. The prophecy is what drives us this Advent season. We lean into those words so completely, so hopefully. Even though we doubt the reality of the words. It’s a naive fantasy, we think, that there could be peace. All we see is war, conflict, enemies. This makes a nice poster to hang in the kid’s room, a pipe dream for those who don’t know how the world works. A Christmas Card, perhaps. But that’s about as far as we will go.
But back up a moment. Before we tackle this image, this hope, take another look. Verse one. We are introduced to the prophet. Isaiah, son of Amoz, he has a family. And he works for the southern kingdom, Judah, and in its capital city, Jerusalem. Which means, by the way, City of peace. Seems almost ironic, doesn’t it. Jerusalem, the city of peace. In one of the most contentious areas of the planet. How many temples were built and destroyed? How many walls were built, lines drawn? How many times have the alleys echoed with soldiers’ booted feet and streets washed in blood? It’s not new, this conflict, this battleground in the City of Peace. It’s been a place of struggle for centuries.
And yet. Read verse one again. The Word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Did you catch it that time? The Word that Isaiah saw. Saw. Not heard, but saw. Oh, I know, those prophets, what are you gonna do? They are a bit ... goofy. Living out there on the edge, shouting at passers by, running for their lives, hiding in caves and calling down fire. Yeah, those things did happen to prophets. It wasn’t an easy life. Their main job was holding up mirrors. And no one likes looking to closely at themselves. So no wonder they weren’t included at the best parties, no wonder they got bounced from the best clubs. No one wanted them around for long anyway.
Except, this was Isaiah. Not the normal, run of the mill prophet. Not the backwoods, wild-eyed, messy-haired, bad teeth prophet of the street corners, holding up cardboard signs scrawled with illegible doom. Not Isaiah, he was as corporate as prophets get. And much an insider as any of them. He had an office down the hall from the king’s. He had a secretary who took his notes and typed them up for the press release. At least at first. At least before the whole house of cards fell.
Now, he didn’t spout a party line, he wasn’t a mouthpiece for the king. It’s kind of amazing that he was able to keep his job as long as he did, given that more often than not he had bad news to share, fingers to point, doom to pronounce. Maybe those in power considered him a lightning rod. As long as he was there giving warnings and calling them to a higher standard, then nothing bad would actually happen. Makes you wonder if anyone listened to him. Or whether they just shook his hand each week and said nice sermon Pastor Isaiah and went about their business. And he had to bite his tongue every now and then so as not to say, weren’t you listening? It was a messy time, here in the beginning of the book. And then it got worse. When doom fell, when the enemies swept through, when the country crashed around their ears and they were left in a burning rubble, or carried away to a foreign land where they were sure even God had abandoned them.
That all is yet to come for Isaiah here in Chapter two. Now it is palace intrigue, it is ringing the bell to call the powers-that-be back to the Power-That-Is. Now it is warnings and worries, and the day to day tedium of running a nation. And still he manages to see something more. The Word that Isaiah saw. What did he see? The mountain of the Lord’s house. An odd configuration to be sure. But there it was rising above every other mountain, every other house. But not to lord it over, but to invite the world. The world. The whole world. Not to conquer, but to teach. To dispense wisdom. And what will be taught by God’s people? Peace. The end of war, and that calamity that tears the very fabric of existence, The house of the Lord, the people of God will teach peace. And farming, apparently. Well, if you aren’t going to kill them, you need to learn to feed them.
He could see all that. He could see the hope, the Word at work. Even when the not-word was all around him. Even in the corridors of power that seemed hellbent on making things worse rather than better. Even as they went merrily down the path that lead them to destruction, Isaiah saw the Word. Saw another way, saw another hope. It seems to me that the call of Advent is not to proclaim doom, but to see hope, to see possibilities, even when no one else can see them. We are called to not give up on hope and to walk in the light of the Lord. Walk by the light we see in hope, move toward the kind of world God has in store, work for what makes for peace.
Even while we work to repair what is broken. Now where’s that receipt?