WASHINGTON CITY CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN
December 1, 2013 (First Sunday of Advent)
WE MAY WALK IN GOD’S PATHS
In some ways this is not a typical reading for the first Sunday of Advent. In other ways, it is very typical.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. We often think of Advent as a time for preparing for Christmas. We think about God coming to earth in the form of the little baby in the manger. We remember John the Baptist in Mark 1 verse 3 – “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” We reflect on Mary and Joseph, and the emotions they must have felt and the choices they had to make. We look at our own lives and our own preparations for Christmas, for the coming of God into the world in a tangible, physical way. Typically, Advent is about preparing ourselves physically and emotionally and spiritually for Christmas and commemorating the birth of the Christ child.
Historically that’s only part of it. Our English word advent comes from the Latin word adventus. Adventus is the Latin translation of a Greek word, parousia. Parousia means “coming”, like the coming of a person, like saying “We are coming to church today.” In the New Testament parousia is sometimes used to refer to a regular person, but most often refers to the second coming of Christ. Not to the first coming, to Christmas, but to the second coming, at the end of the world.
So Advent is about Christmas. It is about the coming of Christ into the world for the first time. It is about John the Baptist and preparing the way for the Lord, the preparations that Joseph and Mary had to make and the preparations that we make. Advent is about Christmas.
Advent is also about the Second Coming. It is about Jesus returning to earth at the judgment day. As the Nicene Creed puts it, “(Jesus) will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” Advent is about preparing the way for the final judgment, and the preparations that we have to make for that.
And that’s where our scripture reading focuses this morning. It becomes especially clear in verse 4: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Does that sound to you like something that has already happened? Do nations lift up sword against nation? Yes. Have all the swords been beaten into plowshares? No. Are there still the modern equivalents of spears around and in use today? Yes. Our scripture reading this morning refers to the second coming of Christ, when his never-ending kingdom will be finally established and recognized by everyone.
There is a particular image that is repeated twice in this passage. In verse 3 is a resolution to learn God’s ways and walk in God’s paths. In verse 5 is the call to the house of Jacob to walk in the light of the Lord. This passage calls us to walk where God walks, to walk in God’s light, to walk with God.
Julia has been doing a lot of walking lately. Last spring she suggested that we should commit ourselves to take a walk outside together every day that I have off. I thought that was a good idea, and I agreed, and we’ve done pretty well at keeping the commitment. Actually, let me change that a little bit. Back in the spring, I thought that was a good idea. On the beastly upper 90’s days of summer, or on the bitter mid 20’s to low 30’s days of the last week or so I have not been so sure.
Yesterday Julia said that she was going to take a walk. I told her to hold on a minute and I would walk with her. If she hadn’t said anything I probably wouldn’t have thought about it at all. Once we got outside we were walking together, but what happened before that was that I had to make a decision to walk with her. Do you see what I’m saying?
Let me try another example. One of the great spirituals goes, “I want Jesus to walk with me. I want Jesus to walk with me. All along my pilgrim journey I want Jesus to walk with me.” I love that song. The imagery is of us walking, us on a journey, us going someplace, asking Jesus to walk with us and support us and strengthen us.
Our closing hymn a little later on will be “When we walk with the Lord.” That’s a little different, isn’t it? The image there is that the Lord is walking wherever he is walking, and we need to try to find that place, try to find that path, and then we need to walk with him.
Yesterday Julia was going to go walking on her route. I chose to walk with her. The old spiritual has us walking through our own lives, and asking Jesus to walk with us. Our closing hymn is about Jesus walking on whatever path he is walking on, and our seeking to walk with him.
That is where our scripture reading is today. In verse 3, the prayer is that we may walk in His paths. In verse 5 it’s that we may walk in the Lord’s light. Whether the preparation is for the coming of the Christ child, or for the coming of Jesus at the end of days, we want to walk with God. There’s nothing wrong with asking God to walk with us. Jesus is always willing to meet us wherever we are and help us with whatever needs we have. It’s just that today’s verse calls us to try to find the Lord’s paths, and for us to walk with the Lord.
Now I’m going to ask you to take a look at one more verse in our reading – Isaiah 2, verse 1. “The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” That’s kind of strange. It doesn’t say “The word that Isaiah son of Amoz heard concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” It says that it’s the word that Isaiah saw.
That’s kind of interesting, isn’t it? What does it mean to see a word? If this was being written today, we might think it meant that God texted Isaiah, or that Isaiah is following #GodsProphecies and God has been tweeting all this stuff out. But since Isaiah saw it and wrote it several thousand years ago, tweeting and texting are not the answers.
In Isaiah chapter 1, Isaiah paints a terrible picture. Barbara Lindblad describes it this way: “In chapter 1 Isaiah graphically laid out what he had seen: violence, bribery, unfaithfulness, desolation, trampling on the poor. There are brief interruptions as God calls for repentance and offers glimpses of hope, but they are drowned out by these pictures of violence and rebellion.”
That sets us up for chapter 2, where Isaiah paints another word picture for us. This time it’s a picture of the future, a picture of what is to come. It’s a picture of peace, a picture of hope, a picture of all the peoples of the world coming to Mount Zion to hear and learn and live God’s teaching. It’s a picture of transformation, a picture of the world that is to come, a picture of us walking in God’s paths and walking in the light of the Lord. It is a picture of the world that we hope for, and that we are called to help bring about.
I say “the world that we are called to help bring about,” not “the world we will bring about.” Why? In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle the main character learns of a book. It’s titled “What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?” The character is anxious to read the book. When the chance finally comes, it doesn’t take long. The book consists of one word: “Nothing.”
It’s true. Humankind can’t really accomplish anything on its own. We see that in the hunger and the hurt and the war and the waste around us. It is only when we seek to walk in God’s path, to follow in the Lord’s light, it is only when we walk with the Lord that we can have hope.
As we look to the days ahead, it’s good to think about what’s coming up. It’s good to prepare for the advent of the Christ child. It’s good to look at how we’re living our lives and whether or not we are walking with God.
Just don’t let it stop on December 26th. Think about what it means to be ready for the second coming, when Jesus will come in glory and his kingdom will have no end. Walk in God’s paths and God’s light. Live in God’s hope. Amen.