Before i write any further, a plug for a really good family resource this advent, at: http://corycenter.org/uploads/24-Days-of-Advent.pdf. It contains ideas for the whole of advent and looks really good. I used today’s ideas to give me a starting point for my talk this morning… which was a slightly adhoc and random collection of ideas and thoughts based on Isaiah 2.1-5. My notes below don’t particularly reflect what i said, which may be no bad thing!
Take a moment to think of down something you think will happen today, you could choose whether to be more or less adventurous in your prediction, its up to you. Then think about something that you think ought to happen today, but probably won’t unless you make it.
This month we’re going to be looking at some bits from a book in the Bible called Isaiah. Isaiah is one of the major prophets of the Old Testament, and in churches during advent, at carol services etc we often read some of his words.
The words of a prophet do 2 things- they speak to their immediate listeners to challenge and encourage them for the immediate or short term, AND they speak to the world about things that ought to happen.
Remember what we found in the advent box at the start of our service- a train timetable- its something that tells us when the next train will leave, and also when a train in three weeks will arrive… it helps us to know what to do (relax or rush) and to look ahead.
The things we read in Isaiah and the other books of prophecy in the Bible work in the same way- they are connected to what was happening when they were written, and also about things in the future- some of them pointed towards Jesus, and some to things that still haven’t happened.
(end of children’s section, they move off to table’s to continue with an activity for the remainder of the talk) Its quite challenging when you have to try and explain a part of the Bible, a whole genre of writing, to children, but hopefully in doing so, I haven’t completely confused the rest of you!
Words of prophecy can also be seen as like the captain or manager of a football team, speaking at half time- this is whats happening, this is what needs to happen- its immediately important. But its also about how things should be more generally. If any manager ever told their defenders to tighten up and keep an eye on the opposing striker- that wasn’t a one off comment just for that game… it was always true, but it was really important right then.
They are always about how God calls us to live, about the promises that God makes to his people and the world.
The context of Isaiah and most other Biblical prophets is towards the end of the kingdom of Israel- things are going to pot, and the prophets are speaking to warn the kings and other leaders of what they need to do- essentially turn back to God, turn away from false idols (whether those be other gods, being led by others who don’t know God, chasing after money, or any of the other things that faced them and still face us). Some of the prophets wrote before the fall of Jerusalem, some after, some in exile, some while remaining in Israel.
So this passage had all sorts of meanings to its original hearers, giving them encouragement that their times of trouble would come to an end, that there would be an end to the conflict they were in, that they would be once again able to worship God freely. They were also, over the years, understood as pointing to the Messiah- the hoped for Christ who would bring salvation and restoration. There were different groups who understood that in different ways- a return of the kingdom was one, a spiritual salvation for the people of Israel was another.
For Christians, they have an additional meaning, as we understand Jesus to be the fulfilment of much of the writings, and many others to point towards his return- the kingdom of heaven here on earth in all its fullness… Today is the first Sunday in Advent- the season of preparation. We’re all preparing for Christmas, preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus- we’re looking forward to something that is on the way, but hasn’t arrived yet. And yet we know how the story works- we know what lies behind the final door on our advent calendars- its exciting, but not surprising for us.
This season, I want to encourage you to consider that the words of Isaiah are still a challenge for us- they tell us of things that happened, the promise future events, but they also speak to us of things that ought to happen, they speak of how we should be living our lives-
In todays passage there are just these few simple things that I picked up on-
Many Peoples- not just lots of people, but different nations… people from all over the world will know God… great to hear, but how’s it going to happen?
‘let us go up to the mountain of the Lord’- they want to worship God and are willing to move from where they are to do so… what might it mean for us to really worship like that?
God will judge between the nations and settle disputes for many peoples- recognising that God won’t just be the God of one nation but the whole world- a huge challenge for the people of Israel… for us it may mean recognising that God is the God the world of the tolerant agnostic and the confrontational atheist, if only they could see that.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares- people will be more concerned about producing food than being in charge… conflict will be unimportant… how are we bringing about peace in our world, in our community?
One day, these things will come to pass. The challenge, the invitation, that the words of the prophet Isaiah lay before us, is to become involved in these things, to become players on the field rather than simply spectators in the stands.
Lets pray that this year, our advent preparations might help us to be ready for all that God has in store for us.