This week begins Advent, that is preparation for our King’s coming. This preparation is not shopping, cookie making, or otherwise “getting in the mood” for Christmas. This is heart preparation. In the scripture lessons this week, we begin our journey to the manager with themes to designed to change our heart’s posture. One of the challenges of being an evangelical in North America is that the purpose of Advent is often lost in the hub-bub (both Christian and secular) that surround this season. We aren’t meant to celebrate Advent; we are meant to observe it. To truly ponder the “reason for the season,” we begin not at the manager or even Zechariah’s prophecy, we go back to Isaiah’s words regarding God’s coming rule (Isaiah 2:1-5). Our attention is to look up–not to an angel or transcendent encounter–but to the “mountain of the Lord’s house.”
On this mountain, the Creator God establishes peace by establishing His justice. In other words, the law of God brings peace. Law = Peace. You and I probably don’t think about Law in this way. Reading the Old Testament as a 21st century Christian, the Law is easily equated with our connotations of judgment–the mortal sin of our age. To mete out judgment between nations would seemly bring more conflict and division, not peace and harmony. But the prophet’s promise is that this judgment gives life to the people and hope to the people who are living in conflict.
The concept of judgment lives deep in our most treasured Christmas passage:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
Somehow we miss what it might mean for “the government to be upon his shoulder.” Keep reading and it becomes clear:
“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” Isaiah 9:7
As any parent can tell you, peace between children in conflict does not generally come without some sort of judgment as to who’s toy or who’s turn it is. This is peace is not a soft dove dispensing downy feelings of comfort, but a hard won justice. It is peace that transcends our understanding. It hard to make a Christmas ornament out of that kind of peace.
Consequently to live and look for this promise of God’s rule and judgment requires preparation. Thus the urgency described in the readings from Romans and Matthew. It time to get up and clean house–lay aside the dark and put on the light. Get your hearts ready for his coming judgment is at hand.
Sounding a bit Puritanical to your ear? It might well, but again this is our cultural misunderstanding of what is the foundation of God’s law. It is not a law built on some set of arbitrary rules. This is the law of Love. The story of an arbitrary, fickle God would begin and end with judgment. But the Christian story begins with a God who creates and continues with a God who saves. That saving begins here in the Incarnation.
If we return to the prophet’s words, see how God’s dwelling and rule draws in the nations. They “stream” to his presence. Why? “That he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (v. 3). Here is the nations’ desire: to know his Law. Not to hang out in the glory of his mountain, but to walk in his light. This is what the world is truly longing for.
Psalm 122 follows fittingly. As one of Israel’s Songs of Ascent, these words were likely sung by pilgrims as they traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts. You can hear the echo of this Psalm among those making their way to the mountain in Isaiah’s prophecy.
Begin the journey then up to the mountain to meet our God. Let the beauty of his Law of Love draw you to get ready for he is coming soon.
“Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”