First a few words on the story thus far. God has created all things and declared his creation to be good. He charged people with the task of watching over, or caring for his world – God was with his people as we recall the idyllic picture of a beautiful garden. Looking around the world today, it is clear enough that things didn’t stay that way. Instead of embracing the role that God gave to his people, as part of his creation, people found the temptation to be “like god” too great, but sitting on the throne was not something God had ever intended for his people and in an act of love for his world, God cast his people away from the the garden and away from the tree of life.
Fratricide ensued as Cain killed Abel and from there the next few chapters seem to tell the story of a tailspin. Man’s rebellion against God grew and grew until God, in another act of love for his world, sends the waters – to cleanse the creation of much of the rebellion that mankind was bringing on his garden. Yet even after choosing Noah and his family, after bringing them through the waters rebellion still remained the norm for humanity.
And so in Genesis Chapter 12 God makes a great promise to a man named Abram. He called Abram to leave his old life behind and to go to a new land where he would become the father of a great nation. God said to Abram, “ ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
In other words – through you Abram I will set things right in the world, through you and your children I will bring blessings on all the earth, through you I will work to set things right in the world.
It was only a few years later that Abram’s family found themselves in the midst of a famine and left the land that God had called them to for the storehouses of Egypt… As the story goes the Egyptians enslaved God’s people and for hundreds of years they lived under the oppression of pharaoh’s empire. Things looked bleak, until God called a man named Moses to lead his people out of slavery. God fought for his people and led them out of oppression, he again brought his chosen people through the water to freedom. He brought them to Mt. Sinai, where he again called the to be his special servants in the world because that promise to Abram still mattered… through his people God would set the world right.
After years of wandering through the desert, God again, brought his people into the land he had promised, again through water. It was not before long that the people wanted something different – they wanted to be like the other nations of the world – they, once again, wanted a throne, they rejected God as their king and asked for another. With what only sounds like a broken heart (from the text of I Samuel) God grants their request. Their kings were, just as they had wanted, like those of the other nations. The people were led away from their God and king after king, like pharaoh before them enslaved the promised people.
It was during this time that the prophets spoke and wrote. The prophets spoke on behalf of God to his people – they reminded them of their identity and called them to live life, again, as God had always intended it. This week, we begin an Advent series on the words of Isaiah, one who saw the world as God had promised it, one who was not shy about calling the people back to God’s plan to set things right. In Advent we look forward to the coming king – one not like the kings of the nations – not like pharaoh, or Israel’s kings of old, one much different than the, so called rulers of the world, both ancient and modern.
Isaiah’s vision in chapter two tells the story beautifully –
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.
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.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah’s is a vision of creation restored, of all people gathered together around the presence of God. It is a peaceable kingdom in which war and strife has come to its end and all people walk together in the way of God.
As beautiful a vision Isaiah gives us, it is hard to imagine. All people taking a cue from old Abram and leaving the old behind for what God has promised. All nations beating their tools of war into farm equipment – how would a nation like Iran or North Korea respond to such a message, or perhaps more difficult still, how would a nation like ours respond to Isaiah’s call?
The truth is, Isaiah’s vision is not something that the nations of the world will bring about – though the United Nations does engrave Isaiah’s words on its walls, the abundance of farm equipment won’t come from there – folks will not gather around their headquarters the learn the ways of their security council.
Isaiah’s vision of the world set right comes with the Advent of King Jesus. It comes as he calls each of us, as he calls all people to leave the old behind that we might walk in his ways. It is not something that is easy, Jesus walked the road of the cross. Peter tells us that faithfulness to Jesus, though tested by fire, is more precious than gold. This king, Jesus, brings us into his kingdom, through the waters and leads us to new and full life – following in his footsteps.
As we, the people of God, look for our coming king – back to Christmas, now to where he meets us in love for our neighbors, and his coming again; may God grant us hearts filled with the good news of his kingdom, eyes fixed on the promise of the world set right, and his Spirit, that we might boldly walk in his ways.