Brighter Days Ahead
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
2 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 Now, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light which the Lord gives us!
If you have every hiked up a steep mountain or large hill you know how hard it can be to reach the top. Looking up towards your destination while looking down to carefully take the next step requires concentration. Each step forward brings you closer to the top. As the trail steepens, focusing on the goal of reaching the summit to enjoy the exhilarating view keeps you moving forward.
These weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas can feel like a race to the top of the mountain rather than a focused hike. The goal is to get to Christmas, the summit, to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. And to accomplish all that has to be done before that day arrives.
The first Sunday of Advent serves as a STOP sign to the busyness of the season. Before beginning the climb towards Christmas, stop and read the sign at the head of the trail. Just as climbing a mountain, it is important to focus on the destination and be aware of the steps along the way. The season of Advent forms those steps. It is the time to prepare the way for the celebration of Christmas.
This first Sunday, the Sunday of hope marks the first step. The anticipation and excitement of Christmas is in the air. We are not yet tired of the decorations, carols, and other trappings that come with the season.
This beginning of the season also brings other feelings. Angst over all that has to been done and whether or not everything will be perfect when Christmas arrives. Sadness over who won’t be there and celebrations that won’t happen. Those that cringe when someone asks, “What are you doing for Christmas?” The hope is that expectations will be met or in getting through unscathed.
You probably know Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. The story of miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge who has lost sight of the meaning of Christmas. He is visited by three ghosts. The first, the Ghost of Christmas Past, who takes Scrooge back to his lonely childhood, joyful celebrations of Christmas and how his growing obsession with wealth affected his life. The second, the Ghost of Christmas Present, shows Scrooge how his attitude and actions negatively affect those around him. The third, the Ghost of Christmas Future, shows Scrooge how a change in his attitude and actions could positively affect him and those around him, including Christmas dinner at the home of his long-suffering employee, Bob Cratchit. There is yet hope for his future, the Ghost tells him, if he takes the necessary steps to change.
Advent hope is so much more than a hope for a better future. In this season we are reminded again that we live in the in-between times. Between the birth of Jesus Christ in the manger and his return in glory. Advent hope is knowing with certainty that Christ will return. It is not an empty promise but a surety. The hope we have extends beyond Christmas into the future of all creation.
Isaiah knows this kind of hope. In the text we read that Isaiah saw the word. Usually, we talk about hearing the word rather than seeing it. Seeing the word is visualizing what it says. It’s like reading a description of a scene in a novel and imagining in our mind’s eye what it looks like. For Isaiah, seeing the word implies a greater level of discernment, a depth of understanding that just hearing the word doesn’t provide. Seeing the word carries us forward into God’s plan.
Let’s go back to the mountain climb. Often, the descent is much harder than the ascent. Paying attention to the trail to avoid hazards that may be difficult to see because of the slope is challenging. Plus, your calf muscles burn with pain. The hope of reaching the bottom safely is what keeps you going.
Living in Advent hope is life after reaching the bottom safely. God teaches us on the way up to the top of the mountain what it means to walk God’s path into the future so that we can continue to embrace God’s hope as we live every day.
The lessons we learn during Advent are important ones to carry with us as we walk back into the darkness of the world. A world of worry, fear, evil, war, and sickness. We know all too well what that is like, especially after over two years of living during the pandemic.
Have you ever been in a cave when the guide turns off all the lights? The total darkness is such that you literally can’t see your hand in front of your face. The welcome of the light, even from a small flashlight, is a relief. A true light in the darkness.
Christ is our light in the world of darkness that surrounds us. Advent reminds us of the light of Christ still shines amid the world’s darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. The certain hope of Advent is that Christ’s light will continue to shine forever. Without that hope, the future will simply be a repetition of the past. The experiences of life before the climb will be the experiences upon the return. Advent is a new point of departure. A shift in direction off the well-trodden path. A new path where we create new footsteps like walking in the wet sand where the tide has just come in.
The same challenges exist. Nations totter, hatred is on the rise, peace cannot be found. The darkness persists in broken relationships or caring for an elderly parent who has an illness that can’t be diagnosed. In the angst of an adult child facing a problem that can’t be fixed. Worry and sleepless nights seem all consuming. In the losing of independence as dementia creates a darkness of helplessness. In the 6th grader who is convinced that everyone in her class hates her as she drowns in the shadow of despair. Darkness haunts those we know and even ourselves.
In the midst of all of this darkness, Advent hope shines through. We hear the message every year. It is a reminder of what we have through Christ. As we hear again the prophet’s voice rising in the darkness we may experience a breakthrough – a new insight or an aha moment when it all makes sense.
Even in a culture that is antithetical to the gospel of Christ the light in the darkness continues to flicker to guide the way through. God’s promise of hope can’t be extinguished. The words of the prophets we hear in this season year after year take root as the body of Christ continues walking in his light, reassuring each other, and telling the world of the comfort of God’s grace. His followers hear and proclaim the assurance of God’s mercy.
Basking in God’s presence, God’s people still and always cry out for peace, that peace that of Christ that goes beyond our human understanding. We move forward confident that Christ’s light breaks through the darkness and that swords will, at some point, be changed into plowshares.