We all see dark places we long to see light invade. We turn on the news, talk to our coworkers, and look at our family. We do not have to look far to find the dark corners of our life in desperate need of light. This first Sunday of advent, the season of faithful preparation, we might ask the question, will we allow our cry for the light turn into demands on how and when the light will come?
In context, Isaiah 2:1-5 finds itself in the midst of prophetic proclamations of judgment. In chapter one, the so called holy city of Jerusalem is indicted with murder, rebellion, injustice, and corruption (Isaiah 1:21-23). As we continue to read immediately after today’s text, our author claims that God’s people have forsaken God’s ways (Isaiah 2:6-9). This passage comes as a refreshing promise in the midst and in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the truth of the Lord. They seem intent on cultivating the world to produce their ways, rather than the ways of God.
From the time of Abraham, God’s people have been known for taking God for granted. Especially in the gifts God bestows upon them. Abraham was given Isaac. Abraham began to hope in Isaac rather than the God who had given him Isaac. Israel was given the promised land. Israel then demanded a human king to rule them, rather than the God who brought them into the land they called home. We think we would learn our lesson, but this trend continues straight through Israel’s history, even surviving several exiles. Israel was given Jerusalem and the Temple. Israel begins to worship Jerusalem and the temple as gods rather than the God who gave them these gifts.
Even though Israel (and we) have a habit of turning our gifts into idols, God is faithful. God proclaims that in the days to come, not only will the Lord’s house be established as the highest of the mountains, but that all the nations will stream to it in order learn from God and walk in his holy path (vv. 2-3). Even though Jerusalem has become a gift turned idol for Israel, God still proclaims to use this sinful, murderous city as the seat of righteous instruction and holy practices of God. It is so typical of God to bring salvation from the most unexpected places.
Israel (and we) do not like the unexpected. This is made most obvious in the treatment of Jesus. Jesus came from the gross, impoverished town of Nazareth, son of a carpenter, and had an unsavory birth story. Yet this Jesus went around performing miraculous signs and claimed to be the Son of God. Jesus was yet another example of a gift taken for granted and was sacrificed to the idol of human understanding. He was not the light they chose or wanted. So they crucified him. On a mountain, raised above the hills, in front of people from many nations. The crucified one is dead set to return and judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for all peoples. God yet again took what the people used in idolatry to turn the world back to Him.
In the gospel of Luke, we are told that Jesus told his disciples that one is without a sword, they should sell their cloak and buy one (Luke 22:36). While some may read this as justification for the right to bear arms, I would advocate a different reading. I think Jesus is most concerned about the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. He seeks to be the light of God in the world. Jesus desires the reality in this passage from Isaiah. That nations would no longer rise up against each other or even learn the ways of war. One of the best ways for people to not learn the ways of war and instead learn how to cultivate peace is to turn all swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Whenever weapons of war are beheld, the disciple of Christ only sees materials to make garden tools.
It is a world free of war, free from sin and death, full of the righteousness of our God that Jesus calls us to and will return to rule over in the end of all time. This first Sunday of advent, we are to see Jesus as the true light of the world. We are to live into his kingdom where no gift from God is misused or exchanged for an idol. It is in Christ’s kingdom that people tend with garden tools to cultivate and bear the ways of God rather than swords and spears to cultivate our own ways. May we call our people to faithfully anticipate God’s light and to expect it in God’s ways, and not our own. “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”