Advent 1 – God’s kingdom is coming
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Let us walk in the light
Do you see that? Many years ago there were not devices. There were no gameboys. There were no iPads. You could not watch a movie. You could not play a game. You really only had two options. You could either stare at the person next to you in the car. Or you could stare at the scenery around you out there. And when you were stuck in the car, especially on long trips, some of the most welcome words were, “Do you see that?” One of us would see deer, or antelope, or an eagle. And Dad would ease off the gas a little so that we could have a good look. In our words that we look at this morning, we see the same sort of pattern. People who were far away from Jerusalem see a sight that is worthy of having a look at. They see the humble mountain in Jerusalem lifted up above all the others. In Isaiah 2, we read: “1 The vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: 2 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills.” (Is. 2:1–2 CSB17)
Today we’re starting an extended series within the book of Isaiah. So, what I’m about to say here will come in handy in the weeks to come. These words are poetry. They are visual poetry. Isaiah is painting a picture with his words to make an important point. And what is it that Isaiah sees? He sees non-Jewish people who live far away. And these people who live far, far away see God’s holy mountain. They see Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. And the reason they see it is that Mt. Zion is lifted up far above all the other mountains in the world. They see this mountain. So what do they do next? We read: “All nations will stream to it,” (Is. 2:2 CSB17)
They see this mountain. Then they stream to it. Again, this is very beautiful visual poetry. In the same way small streams gather together into larger ones, and then, finally, they all gather together into a big river, so it will be with those people far away from Jerusalem. They will see the mountain and then they will stream there. But, as Isaiah travels on in his words, he answers the why question. Sure, they see this mountain that is so high and lofty. But there’s more: “3 and many peoples will come and say, “Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us about his ways so that we may walk in his paths.” For instruction will go out of Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He will settle disputes among the nations and provide arbitration for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives. Nation will not take up the sword against nation, and they will never again train for war.” (Is. 2:3–4 CSB17)
So the people see. Then the people stream. Then the people speak. They tell us why they are streaming to Jerusalem. They want, they yearn to be taught God’s ways. And there’s two reasons for this. First, their own ways did not work. It’s like the old proverb, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Prov. 16:25 NIV-GK) They tried to get through life their own way. And it didn’t work. They lived their lives in denial of sin. One of the amazing blessings we have every time we gather together to hear God’s word is that we get to hear what is actually right and actually wrong. The people out there have consciences just like we do. But so often consciences are not enough. Take moving from one state to another as an example. A family has to move from one state to another. So the kids show up one day to a new school. They do not dress like the other kids. They do not talk like the other kids. So what happens? They get made fun of. And it’s so easy to have an entire class of kids make fun of one new kids. And those kids don’t recognize or realize what they are doing is wrong until someone else, usually a teacher is there to correct them. There is this denial of sin where we can live in ignorance that what we are doing is even wrong. But there is another denial. When we do recognize and realize that we have done is wrong, it hurts us. And what is the go-to way we deal with it? We try to forget it. We try to deny that it happened. We distract ourselves with work or play, hobbies or habits, just so that we will not think of that sin. But the stain of the sin remains.
These people who lived so far away from the Lord are traveling far and wide to Jerusalem because the Lord’s ways were so much better. The Lord could actually teach them what really, actually was right and wrong. But there was another reason. The Lord could actually give them peace. Why was it that that mountain in Jerusalem was lifted up above Mt. McKinley and the Himalayas? Day after day and especially on the one day of the year, the Day of Atonement, animals died there on that mountain. And there was the promise from God that the blood and death of those animals connected them to one sacrifice that would pay for their sins. That payment was offered up by Jesus. He was the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.
The result of that payment was peace—peace in two areas. First, these travelers from far away were at peace with God. How many times had they tried their own way and failed? How many times had they lived in ignorance of what was right and wrong, and then, their lives exploded up in their faces, they finally saw how horrible their sin was. But there on that mountain was a sacrifice that would pay for their sin and wipe away the stain. And they could then be at peace with their God above. But they could also be at peace with themselves. How many of them could look back in their lives 5, 10, 50 years and have this lasting pain in them over what they did? But there on that mountain if God forged peace with them at the cost of his own Son, then they could finally be at peace with themselves. So these people from far away—they see they, stream, and then they speak. And in these final words, Isaiah then invites his people to speak too: “House of Jacob, come and let’s walk in the Lord’s light.” (Is. 2:5 CSB17)
Here, one final time this morning it’s good for us to see this visual poetry. Isaiah sees all these people from far away streaming to Jerusalem to be taught God’s ways there. And what reaction does he have? If these people from far away cannot help but travel across the globe to get here to Jerusalem, let us too do the same. Let us be taught. And my dear friends in Christ, the same is true for us today. Here we are at the beginning of a new year. This last year, each of us can say that there were times we followed our own way. And it didn’t work. Each of us can look back at times where we sinned and messed up. And the stain of that stays. But each of us can look to Jesus, the Lamb of God and rejoice that we are now at peace with him, And so we can be at peace with each other.
So, let us be taught. But notice this final detail that Isaiah adds. Let us also be together. Notice, my dear friends, that there is no “I” or “me” in these words. From beginning to end there is just “we” and “us.” And what this shows us is that there is this great joy and need for us as Christians to get to know each other. Two Sundays ago, I preached down in SD. I got there about a half an hour early to get my stuff set up. But I wasn’t the only one. There were a bunch of people there setting up their church. And I could tell that they were doing this together, so that together, they would get to know each other and be there for each other. And that was a powerful reminder for me of how important it is to be out of the darkness and together in the light of God’s word. Because, when you are alone it’s all too easy to conclude that your sins aren’t really sins at all. And when you are alone in the darkness, it’s all to easy to conclude that what you did 5 months or 50 years ago cannot be forgiven. And that you can do with it is bury and deny it.
But when we are together in the light of God’s word, it’s different. Our sins of ignorance get exposed and brought out into the light. And the stain and shame that is so easy for us to hold onto gets forgiven. And with that we have peace.
My prayer for you this beginning of the new year is that you, along with me would walk in the light. And my prayer is that we would both be taught in the light and together in the light. Amen.