| Isaiah 2:1-5
|Sun, December 2, 2001
Rev. Ed Searcy
|“In days to come”. These are the first words out of the mouth of God in this new season ... new year ... in the life of the church. “In days to come the mountain of Yahweh’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains.” In days to come the nations will stream to the house of the God of Jacob to be taught the ways of Yahweh, to walk in the paths of the God whose law is clear: “thou shalt not kill”. This is the One who will be appointed as judge in the court of nations and as arbitrator whose rulings are binding between warring combatants. “In days to come” the nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nations, neither shall they learn war any more.” In days to come no more terrorist training camps in the mountains of Afghanistan, no more boot camps teaching young women and men the killing techniques of modern warfare, no more ethnic killing fields in Rwanda or Ireland, in the Balkans or in the Middle-East. This impossible hope is the first word which opens the book on what lies ahead. Wander into a performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and you hear the same thing. The first words out of God’s mouth, also from Isaiah: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people”. This is the good news that is the first word. In a deeply troubled world ... among warring nations, in the midst of warring families, even within our warring souls ... Yahweh - the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of Mary and of Jesus ... is making new, ending hostility, bringing peace, restoring and reconciling. We begin our year here, with the truth about what God is up to. Amen?
Well, you will be forgiven for a less than enthusiastic chorus of hearty ‘Amens’ in reply. ‘Amen’ is short hand, of course, for ‘that’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. It is to call out ‘True, True’ in reply to a prayer ... a song ... or a sermon. Surely the daring - or is it foolish - claim that “in days to come” the God of Jerusalem will put an end to war can hardly seem possible in these days. Not when places like the Gaza strip are occupied war zone whose daily humiliation teaches too many children the despair needed so that they finally find their only hope in strapping a bomb to their chest and in wreaking deadly havoc in Haifa or in Jerusalem. This is the supreme irony ... or is it simply the hard truth ... that on the day when we read of God’s promise for “days to come” in Jerusalem we learn of the terror unleashed yesterday in Jerusalem. Isaiah speaks the promise of God: “In days to come”. Instead of a resounding ‘Amen’ our unison cry is, instead, “when”.
When. If there is one word that defines the season of Advent it is ‘when’. And not just because the children and grandchildren have already begun their ceaseless, longing questions: “when can we put up the lights ... when can we put up the tree ... when will Christmas be here?” When is also the ceaseless, longing question of the parents and grandparents: “when will the household be in peace ... when will work no longer be a battle ... when will the world’s news be good”. Some say that Advent is the season of waiting, the season of developing the virtue of patience ... a virtue not often fostered in a culture of fast-food and instant gratification. Yes. In Advent we are waiting ... waiting for the “days to come” that have been promised but are not yet here. But Advent is not merely a season of patience, all of us sitting in the waiting room of God’s kingdom yet to come. Advent is also a season of impatient expectation. In this let the children and grandchildren be our teachers. They can hardly stand the wait ... they drive their parents and grandparents nearly crazy with their pent-up energy as the days draw closer and closer on the calendar. They keep asking “when ... when ... when”.
To which Paul says: “Now, now, now”. Paul worries that the church too quickly falls asleep, that it loses its impatience and too easily falls into complacency: “It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep ... the night is far gone, the day is near”. Imagine Paul, opening the door on our life, turning on the light and rudely interrupting our leisurely midwinter’s nap: “Wake up, wake up ... you’re late ... it’s time to get going.” I think I overheard some of Paul’s wake up call this past week here in our life at University Hill. We hosted five gatherings in five different households and involved fifty of our number in conversation about “the days ahead” for us as a congregation. It was clearly a wake up call. The decisions that we must make together about where we’ll meet in the years ahead and how we will fund our core ministries and, most critically, who we will be in “the days to come” are growing in their urgency. It is dawning on us that we’re entering a new day in our life together. Now is not the time, as Paul says, for playing in the dark - no time now for wasteful living or for in-house quarrels and lingering jealousies. No. This is the season for waking up to what Christ is doing in our midst ... even for “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” and embodying God’s peace making One in our reconciled life. This is the season when impatience may be a necessary virtue. This is the time to give thanks for those troubling voices in our midst who keep saying “wake up ... wake up ... to what God is calling us to be”
Because, finally, Advent is the pregnant season of expectancy. It is a time of deep, resilient hope. This is an odd and surprising hope in a world which hides it great despair under the protective layers of consuming and partying and buying and selling and working ... endlessly working so that the silent despair that might find a voice in sabbath rest cannot be heard. But now, when we keep the commandment and stop for sabbath rest ... when we cease our productivity long enough for God to get a Word in edgewise ... we hear Jesus say: “Keep awake ... for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”. Something else is going on in our lives ... in our world’s life ... besides endless work and ceaseless war and never-ending trouble. The Maker of heaven and earth is not far from showing up in this part of the universe, is soon to be seen and heard in the details of your life, our life together. But no calendar ... not even a brand, spanking new Christian Seasons Calendar ... can predict the date of arrival: “About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” We only know that “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour”.
So we wait ... for the phone to ring, for a knock at the door ... for some sign of the promised arrival, the promised beginning of a new time ... a new time for our troubled lives ... a new time for our troubled families ... a new time for our troubled church ... a new time for our troubled world. We wait here, at this Table, and we eat together ... broken bread, wine poured ... hands outstretched ... life received ... a reconciled people: poor and rich ... infant and elder ... catholic and protestant ... radical and conservative ... outsider and insider ... here becoming one people who are poured out in love for the world. For a moment we glimpse the promised “days to come” ... and say: ‘Amen’. Amen?