For our Advent Evening Prayer services, I've decided to focus on the Old Testament and Epistle readings from the LSB Series A Lectionary. In light of our American propensity for turning life into a veritable rat-race in the weeks before Christmas, I've also chosen to look at these texts with the theme of "Waiting with Isaiah," because, after all, Isaiah proclaimed some pretty magnificent promises of God, but then God's people had to wait...about 700 years...before seeing them come to fruition in Jesus Christ.
Here's what I proclaimed on the Wednesday of Advent 1 (5 December 2007):
Waiting with Isaiah: Waiting for God's Promised Justice
Isaiah 2:1-5 & Romans 13:8-14
We Americans sure are an impatient lot, aren’t we? When the speed limit sign says “60,” we insist on pushing “70”…at least. When we go to the store, we just expect our favorite products to be on the shelf; and when they’re not, we insist that we just cannot wait a few days. And it gets really bad with things like email. We send an email to a loved one, a friend or a coworker, and if they don’t respond, say, within 5 minutes (at the outside), then we feel we are being ignored, snubbed. Yes, we are an impatient lot, we Americans. We want what we want, and we want it now (if not sooner).
But Advent is a time of waiting. Advent teaches us to wait, to be patient, to persevere. So, this Advent let’s learn how to wait with the Prophet Isaiah. Tonight and the next two Wednesdays we will focus on readings from Isaiah, readings that promise the Savior and His forgiveness, life, and salvation. These promises will teach us how to wait and what to wait for. We will also look to the New Testament reading each week to teach us how to live as we wait for God’s deliverance. How do we Christians live in this time of waiting until our Lord returns on the Last Day with His full and final salvation? This Advent let’s learn to wait with Isaiah.
Isaiah lived and proclaimed God’s message about 700 years before Christ. It was actually a time of prominence for Judah and its capitol city Jerusalem, but the kingdom would soon decline in decades to follow. It was a time of international treaties and alliances as the king of Judah sought to protect his land from invading attackers, but God’s people tended to trust those political alliances for their safety and security more than they trusted God and His promises. It was a time of prosperity as the people of Judah enjoyed their splendid homes, abundant possessions, and nice clothes. Does this sound at all familiar? It’s very much like our day, isn’t it?
So, God sent Isaiah to proclaim His words of judgment and promise to His people in this prosperous, prominent land, safe in its own “homeland security.” And Isaiah had some pretty stern things to say to these people redeemed by God. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Is. 1:2-3). God’s own people were laden with iniquity and dealt with each other corruptly. Isaiah even compared them to Sodom and Gomorrah! God used Isaiah to warn His people that He would have to remove all of their “nice things,” because they did not trust and cling to Him. He would take away “the finery of the anklets, the headbands…the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves…the perfume boxes…the cloaks, and the handbags; the mirrors, the linen garments…,” (Is. 3:18-22) and so on. Well, there went that shopping list! All those treasured possessions from the 8th century B.C. version of the shopping mall and Best Buy would be gone!
But right in the middle of these two sermons of judgment, in the passage we hear tonight, Isaiah gives a sweet promise, a promise of the Lord’s holy mountain. The Lord’s mountain will be “lifted up above the hills…and many peoples will come to it.” Yes, God would have to humble Jerusalem, but He promised to lift it up again. And what would happen on God’s holy mountain? People would invite one another to go up to it “that [God] may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” Instead of being consumed by and worried over the things of international politics and how to have lots of stuff in nice big houses, God’s people would much rather have His teachings and His paths. Isaiah also says, “[God] shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples.” God would work His pure, fair, and loving justice. And here’s what it would look like: “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.” There would be actual, real-life world peace.
Great picture, isn’t it? I’m sure that people who first heard Isaiah’s words would say, “Please, show us this mountain!” Even now, 2700 years later, we want to say, “Please, show us this mountain!” But the people would have to wait for this promised paradise; they would have to wait about 700 years. You see, “the mountain of the house of the LORD” would be built from the wood of a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem. The Lord Himself would come and build it, but He would build it by dying on that cross. Yes, God would work His justice, but He would do so through the weakness of His Son being born of a virgin, living a humble, penniless life, suffering rejection and crucifixion, and then rising again on the third day. The mountain of the Lord is Mt. Calvary. His cross shows His ways of mercy, forgiveness, and true life. His path leads us to trust and enjoy Him much more than the national security or seasonal goodies of our day. The Lord would work His justice by conquering our real enemies: sin, death, and the devil.
Now, at first, we might think, “Well, they had to wait for the Lord’s promised justice,” but we know it’s already come. Yes, people had to wait 700 years to see how God would give justice by forgiving sins in Christ Jesus. So, why do we need to learn to wait? Don’t we have God’s justice? Yes, we do. His justice, His righteousness, His forgiveness, comes in Christ Jesus, wrapped in human flesh and bone, hung on a cross, and risen again. But we still wait. We wait for that final grand display of God’s justice when Christ shall return on the Last Day.
But it’s so hard to wait, isn’t it? We are an impatient lot, even though we know the promise fulfilled on Calvary. It’s hard enough to wait until December 25th each year before we start celebrating Christmas. We want the celebration right now, on our terms, with all of the material trappings of the season. We want the picture-perfect Christmas with all the sugary joy and smiling cheer, hot cider and Christmas sweaters, and everyone else doing things our way.
But have you ever noticed how tired, tense, and irritable we get this time of year? When things don’t go our way, what do we do? Complain. Complain about the driver who cut you off on the way to the mall. Complain about not finding the right gift for that certain someone. Complain if things don’t look, sound, or go as you want in church. Complain…. Well, you can fill in the blank. We want the perfect celebration of Christmas now, and if we don’t get it, well….
We really need to hear St. Paul’s words in our second reading: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other…. Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” That’s God’s promised justice! Now that He has conquered our sin and death, we are free to love one another. We are free to take our eyes off of ourselves and put them on our neighbor. We are free to wait for God to deliver the perfect Christmas. We are free because “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” We are free to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” We are free put off the drunkenness and sensuality and indulgence of this time of year. We are free to put off the quarreling and jealousy that happens at home, at work, and at church.
And how are we free from all of that? God has worked His promised justice already in His Son Jesus. God promises something far, far better than the “perfect Christmas.” He promises real peace, eternal peace that comes only by feasting our eyes, our ears, and our hearts on the Son of God made flesh. Whatever happens to us in the meantime, whatever we disappointments we endure, we can persevere; we can wait. You see, when we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” we can resist gratifying our selfish desires. His mercy helps us wait. So, “house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.” Amen.