a sermon for the 1st Sunday in Advent
God’s vision is a world in which weapons are absurd and everyone has enough to eat. But when can we expect that to happen?
Happy New Year!
We have all kinds of things going on today. For one thing, today is Dylan Kent’s baptism day. Today is also the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Church year. This is why we began the service by lighting the Advent wreath. The Advent wreath is a kind of calendar, each week, we’ll light one more candle, counting the days until the coming of Jesus Christ on Christmas.
The first reading we heard today on this first Sunday of the year is from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah lived about 2800 years ago. This was a time when there was great turmoil in the Kingdom of Israel. In fact, it was so great that that the kingdom actually split in two, one to the north and one to the south. In those days, national boundaries were not as fixed as they are today, and there were frequent wars to expand their influence and reign and acquire wealth and slaves from conquered lands. The Northern Kingdom kept the name Israel, but it was conquered by the Assyrians. The Southern Kingdom, called Judah, and was where Isaiah lived, and they were completely surrounded by hostile armies – Egypt to the South, Assyria and Babylon to the North and East. When these various armies laid siege to Jerusalem, King Ahaz asked Isaiah for advice. “What does God want us to do? Should we team up with the Egyptians? Should we form an alliance with the Assyrians? What should we do?”
This is where today’s reading comes in. But instead of giving military advice, Isaiah paints a picture of a very different reality. He paints a picture of God’s vision for Judah, a vision of a time in the future when people from every nation will come to God’s house that stands high in the mountains. And the people will listen to God’s teachings and be transformed. And they will take all of their weapons of mass destruction, and refashion them into farming equipment – instruments of death will become instruments of life and sustenance.
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 anymore.
These very words are carved into the wall of the United Nations building. They sound so wonderful, don’t they? So peaceful and idyllic. And maybe that’s why they also so unbelievable. Because if this is really God’s vision for the world, shouldn’t we expect to have seen some kind of progress by now? Instead, diplomats debate about what to do about the slaughter of civilians in Syria. And our Congress spends all its time arguing about beating farm subsidies into military funding. And instead of Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, we wonder if we can trust the Iranians, or the Pakistanis, or the North Koreans.
But God’s promise is clear. In the days to come – we don’t know when – God will call us all to gather on the holiest ground, where a new community will be formed. This community will be multiethnic and multiracial. It will embrace every custom and culture. And all of us will gather to hear God’s instruction and arbitration. And not just hear but obey, and not just obey but adopt in complete accord.
In the days to come – we don’t know when – we will no longer need to spend billions of dollars on weapons, because we will simply not be afraid of each other. Then the economy can be converted. And we will be able to redirect our resources from fighting each other to sustaining life on this planet by making sure everyone has enough to eat.
In the days to come – we don’t know when – education will be transformed. And instead of learning how to get ahead of the other guy, we will learn how to support on another, just as Christ would have us do.
Advent is the season when we are most aware that we are living “in between times.” We are living in the Kingdom of God, and are actively making God’s “kingdom come” at the same time. It has already come, and not yet fully realized at the same time. Advent is the season of the church year when we wait and watch for the days to come, when God’s Kingdom will be completely realized here on earth. It is the time when we look forward to the mystery of Christ’s return to us.
In just a few minutes, we will join in baptizing Dylan Kent. And she will take her place living in-between the reality of Christ who has already come, and the future time when he will come again. Meanwhile, like us, she will wait, and watch, and work to bring about God’s vision for the future – when all will live together, when war is completely absurd, and weapons will be transformed into life-giving tools of God’s kingdom.
Thanks be to God.