Advent explained, advent expressed – Monday, 1st week in Advent – Isaiah 2:1-5 (crf Micah 4:1-5)
The text of today occurs twice in the Bible-with minor variations; here in Isaiah and again in Micah 4:1-3. Interpreters have had as little success solving the “which came first” question as people have had with the proverbial chicken and egg. Micah and Isaiah are contemporaries, both are prophets of the eighth century B.C. and both were concerned primarily with issues of justice and integrity before God in a time of social inequality and hypocritical worship.
We know little about Isaiah other than what is revealed in this book. Most scholars believe that this Isaiah wrote chapters 1-39 of this book and that another person or persons added chapters 40-66. We know nothing about his father Amoz, who should not be confused with Amos, the prophet. Our text today is from the historical Isaiah or what is called ‘first Isaiah’, son of Amoz, who lived during the reigns of King Uzziah to King Hezekiah in Judah. His partner in life was a prophetess (Isaiah 8:3) and together they had several children.
The text of today opens with the words, “In days to come or in latter days.” This phrase, points to the future, but offers no clue as to how far in the future this might be, signalling that, however attractive the promise of no more war sounds, it is not one that we can usher in in our own time or in our own way. When and how it comes is God’s business; though this does not at all mean that the word has no message for present hearers. What is clear is that it will be, by the grace of Yahweh, a glorious future.
When you look at the text of today, the word of promise in Isaiah 2:1-5 is embedded within prophetic oracles of judgment (see Isaiah 1:21-31; 2:5-22). In the prior chapter, the “holy” city of Jerusalem is accused of murder, rebellion, injustice, and corruption (Isaiah 1:21-23). And the texts immediately following Isaiah 2:1-5, claim that God’s people have forsaken God’s ways (Isaiah 2:6-9). So, while chapter 1 speaks of Judah’s sin and the judgment that its people could expect, it also offers a brief glimpses of hope; of Yahweh’s enduring love.
In the first two chapters of Isaiah, then, Jerusalem is offered words of both judgment and salvation. These words of judgment, however, are not in contradiction to the promise of Isaiah 2:1-5. In fact, they are in service of it: In this text, promise and judgement are not contradictory realities: judgment serves promise, and contributes to bringing about the fulfilment of promise.
I am not sure the scripture of today offers much wiggle room for timid and tepid preaching.
Often we don’t like to hear of judgment in the run up to Christmas. We would like the season of advent to focus on hopeful visioning and we feel compelled to edit out the judgement that runs alongside Isaiah’s dreams for Jerusalem. It is always tempting, especially in the joy of Christmas to steer clear of judgy preaching. But if the message of God is to be effective, and if we want this text to orient us towards a new way of life then that must include the naming of our errors first.
So, what shall we do with today’s text? Advent, as we know, is a time of hope and longing, but also a time of repentance. Isaiah reminds Israel (and us) that we can’t appreciate the promise without hearing the judgment. If there is no need, there is nothing for which to hope. So, embrace the message of Advent before embracing Christmas. Embrace the agony of labouring for new life to be born in your life.
Walking in God’s paths involves a choice. If we choose to walk on God’s paths, it means choosing not to walk on competing paths. Choosing God involves accepting certain restrictions, but it is a life-giving choice. Jesus says, “Enter in by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in by it. How narrow is the gate, and restricted is the way that leads to life! Few are those who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).