God’s Holy Mountain

a sermon for the 1st Sunday of Advent (Year A)

When the kingdom of Judah was under attack, the king sought the advice of the prophet Isaiah.  But instead of giving practical military advice, Isaiah described God’s vision of a future when people from every nation will come to God’s house that stands high in the mountains.



A few days ago, I saw a new commercial on TV.  It was was one of those feel-good commercials that we see all the time during the holidays.  The ad depicts a priest opening the door to his home to his friend, an imam. The two friends sit and chat in his living room, both showing obvious signs of discomfort in the knees. They have some tea and laugh about their aches and pains. Later, they both receive a package from Amazon Prime, obviously sent from each other, identical sets of knee pads to wear under their robes during prayer.

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.

Our first reading for today was from the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah lived about 3800 years ago a time great turmoil in the Kingdom of Israel. The kingdom was at war with itself and had actually split in two. The northern kingdom kept the name Israel, but it was conquered by the Assyrians. The southern kingdom, called Judah, was completely surrounded by hostile armies – Egypt to the south, Assyria and to the north and Babylon to the 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?”

week2-sub-largeAs a prophet in the court of the king, Isaiah was used to being asked very practical questions about matters of state. But instead of giving practical military advice, Isaiah painted a picture of a very different reality.  He described God’s vision for Judah, a vision of a future when people from every nation will come to God’s house that stands high in the mountains.  A vision of a people who listen to God’s teachings and be transformed.  A vision of a place where all weapons of mass destruction have been refashioned them into farming equipment – instruments of death have 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.

It sounds so wonderful, doesn’t it?  So peaceful and idyllic. Maybe that why these very words are carved into the wall of the United Nations building.  Christians and Muslims will have tea together, all the people of all the nations will live together in peace.  Everyone will have enough to eat.  It sounds too good to be true, and for good reason.  Because if this is really God’s vision for the world, shouldn’t we expect to have seen some kind of progress by now?  Wouldn’t we have seen some sign of God’s kingdom after 3000 years?  Instead, diplomats debate about what to do about refugees from Syria. Congress spends all its time arguing about beating farm subsidies into military funding.  And instead of Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, we worry about the Iranians, the Pakistanis, the North Koreans and ISIS – all fighting over people, territory and ideologies.

Where is God’s kingdom on Earth today? Right here, in the Church. And the Synagogue. And the Mosque. Because only these places even attempt to teach God’s instruction, God’s teaching. Only in these places do we hear and see how God’s salvation of the world depends on justice for all humankind. We don’t hear that from any of our political leaders of either side. We don’t read that in any ideological manifestos of any persuasion. Only in the Church, the Synagogue and the Mosque do we hold the vision of God as king of the whole world.

Yes, I know that the Church sometimes fails us. Like any human institution, it is often a fallen and broken mirror of God’s intention for the world. But at least its mission, in its stated intent to bring all people into relationship with God and each other, its heart is in the right place. At least it’s a place to start.

What would this church look like if we reflected God’s vision for the world? How would our congregation change? Would we be more diverse? Would we be more open? Would we be more outgoing into the world? How might we become a community of dialogue, worship and prayer, where all points of view could be heard and weighed openly and without fear.

Isaiah presents a different vision of the world, a vision of God’s kingdom on earth.  He declares that the days to come, in God’s future, the holiest ground will become the highest ground, God’s holy mountain.  And it will be a place of all – all peoples, all territories and all ideologies – to come together to form a new community.   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 to embrace God’s judgement 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 entire world economy can be redirected from destroying life 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.

It is a sign of these contentious times that the Amazon commercial has been controversial. Some people feel that the company is trying to make a political point. Perhaps they feel threatened by the simple message of peace in presents – God’s peace. But what’s really interesting is that the man who plays the priest is a real-life priest in the Church of England.  And the imam is really the head of a Muslim school. Both of them actively work in interfaith councils in London, promoting peace and dialog in their community, trying to bring about God’s vision for the future.

Advent is the season of the church year when we wait and watch for signs of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom here on earth.  It is the time when we look forward in anticipation to God’s coming to us.  It is a season of hope and eager anticipation for kingdom that is already upon us, and will be fulfilled when Christ comes again.  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.  Meanwhile, we wait, and watch, and look for the signs of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

Thanks be to God.


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