Our Need and Isaiah's Hope
Good morning! This is a bit of a New Years Day sermon as we’ve started a new church year this morning, here at the beginning of Advent. Bringing in the new secular year on January 1 often involves loud celebration, especially for those of us with kids who are allowed to stay up late! But the new church year is different. As in so many other ways, the kingdom of God takes on a posture that is totally different from the kingdom of the world. It takes on the humility of Jesus’ humble beginnings.
In stead of starting off the new year as the Church Triumphant, we start off with Advent, a penitential season, a little Lent. We start off by acknowledging our need of God. The Great Litany lets us enter in to a right, humble dependence on God. We recenter our focus on God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God. We ask for mercy over our offenses and those of our family. We ask to be delivered from spiritual blindness and hardness of heart, from a lack of charity, from false doctrine.
This is not a normal New Years’ Eve Party, but maybe it should be!
We acknowledge our need of deliverance and we ask for it. We’re vulnerable because of spiritual evil that we’ve participated in and the evil of others. Things we have no control over, like conspiracy and violence, and physical evil like tempests, floods, and lightning.
We begin the new church year with a new start, as Christians do, with humility and repentance.
But we don’t repent as if repentance were enough to help us. We don’t cut ourselves with swords like the prophets of Baal. We lift our heads, and when we do, we see Jesus and his sacrifice, and we ask to be delivered by his holy incarnation, his submission to the law, his agony and bloody sweat, his resurrection and ascension. We show ourselves to be in need of a deliverer, as were the people of God in Isaiah’s time.
They didn’t know what exactly would be coming, or who, but they had hope. If you aren’t aware of your unmet needs or desires, you don’t have hope. You don’t need hope, or at least, you don’t know you need it. But Isaiah knew his need, Israel’s need, our need. As we look at his words in Isaiah 2, we should ask what need is being met. What needs do Isaiah’s hope address? Let’s spend some time with the prophet Isaiah and see how the hopeful promise he relays can reveal and address our needs. In verse 2, he says: It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be lifted up above the hills.” Now what need is being met there? I think it’s the same need we find at the beginning of the Lord’s prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. We have a need, whether we know it or not, for God to be seen truly as he is, for his name to be seen truly as it is, as primary, as holy. When we see God’s name as holy and the mountain of the house of the Lord established as the highest of the mountains, our truth is calibrated with THE truth. We see rightly. God has given our hearts and minds a focal point in his glory, and when we orient our lives there, we find real truth, solid fact, true information, and wisdom. In that moment, we see rightly. That is a true human need, one that most don’t see. Our hearts and minds are calibrated toward other claims of truth, other beauties. But Isaiah shows us our need, and when we see it and see the plan for how it will be met, and we trust it, we have hope.
What else do we see? Isaiah shows us other needs. He continues: “and all the nations shall flow to it, and 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.” If this is the hope, what is the need? The need, the thing that’s lacking, is that of all nations coming to worship, all ethnic groups as well. The need is that their hearts and minds become calibrated with the primacy of God, with his holiness, with his unique, rightful claim to be God. Isaiah’s vision of hope includes others. It includes people that aren’t like us. It rejects the boring, predictable, human flaw where we keep to ourselves and others like us, and reject others for their otherness. That is part of Israel’s need, our need, to find common ground and brotherhood with our neighbor, with humanity. It’s part of his good plan in which Isaiah hopes. And it should be part of how we live out our lives of hope.
Now, I’ve interrupted in mid-sentence the nations who have gone up to the house of the Lord. What more do they say? They continue: “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 the we may walk in his paths.” This vision of Isaiah takes the promise to Abraham and amplifies it. Abraham was promised by God that his descendents would bless the nations. And Isaiah reminds Israel of that part of God’s plan and points to a future time where the nations would be blessed. And how will they blessed? What will they receive? They will receive teaching. They receive Torah, law. Isaiah says: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” Now this is a new work that Isaiah is talking about. The Law came from a different mountain. It came from Sinai, not Zion. Isaiah is pointing forward, not backward. He’s pointing to a brand new work, not an event from Israel’s past. New teaching, new clarification and expansion of the Law, was going to come forth from a new place, the new focal point of our hearts and minds: Zion, the mountain of the house of the LORD, the place of Jesus’ ministry, the birthplace of the church. And the nations will go there and ask to learn the truth. To learn the ways of God and his people. To recalibrate their hearts and minds to the truth and beauty and majesty of God and who he is. And this is done through the Law, the word of God, the new word of God. It’s not enough for the nations to repent, the hope of Isaiah is that they, that we, are formed by the word of God, by Scripture, the words of the Old and New Testament, the book of the church, in its beauty and its complexity, in its unique ability to show us human experience: in history, as it is now, and as it should be, and, most importantly, its unique accuracy into the things of God and who He is.
Isaiah’s hope has even more for us in this passage made up of only 5 verses. In verse 4, he says: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples.” God himself shall be the judge of the whole world. If that’s Isaiah’s hope, what is our need that this hope addresses? Perhaps more than ever, our world is in conflict at every level. From war between nations to news channels, to town ordinances, to microaggressions on Facebook. And no one is able to preside over these things. But Isaiah’s hope is that the hearts and minds of those on Facebook, town councils, news channels, and nations will be reoriented toward God as he is, with the mountain of the house of the LORD established as the highest of the mountains, with the word of God teaching them all. And when that happens, God himself will be the judge at every level. We’ll no longer fight amongst us ourselves, because we’ll all have one judge and we’ll have agreement on what truth is. When that happens, Isaiah tells us that “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 anymore.” So if that is Isaiah’s hope, what is our need? Well, what are the swords and spears in your life? What are the machine guns and nuclear missiles in our hearts? Were the daggers out over Thanksgiving dinner, apart from carving the bird? We have a need for the weapons of our hearts to become instruments of peace. If we turned off the news and got off of social media, arguably, we would all be taking a big step away from learning war anymore. Because we do learn war there. Once peace can be found in human hearts, under the banner of the Prince of Peace, political peace will follow.
While Isaiah and his hearers could see his shadow or his outline, later in the historical biblical narrative, we learn that the hope of Isaiah is ultimately fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ. And as we enter into Advent we long with them for the coming of Jesus to set up his kingdom in our hearts and in the world. Those who are in need, who wait in hope, begin with repentance and humility, and that is why we begin the church year, and especially this season, with the Great Litany. We orient our hearts and minds in hope, in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Before we close, I think it’s worth taking a second to think about these things in light of the search our church is undertaking for a new rector. This is a second need and a second hope. Now we need to make sure that we aren’t conflating the new Rector, whoever he may be, with Jesus. We need to keep our hope for the leader of our parish distinct from our hope in Jesus. But it is worth saying that as our new Rector imitates Christ, Paul exhorts us to imitate our leaders. So, in your prayers for our new rector, pray that he is one who aligns with Isaiah’s hope. Pray for one whose heart is calibrated with God and the right worship of him, as He is. Pray for a rector who cares for us and helps us to care for those not like us. Pray for a rector who cherishes the word and sees it clearly and shows us its riches. Pray for a rector who values peace and teaches us to cultivate it in our lives and in the world.
For ourselves, we pray that these things would be true for ourselves and for those who God is drawing to us to find Him here. May we have rightly calibrated hearts in the unique exaltation of God above all else. May we care for those not like ourselves. May we submit to the judge of all. And let us beat the weapons of our hearts into instruments of peace . Isaiah’s vision shows us our need by showing us our hope. It points to Jesus, in his earthly ministry and in his coming again. And so we look to Jesus, our God, blessing to the nations and their ruler, giver of truth, and prince of peace. And as Isaiah said to the house of Jacob, we say today: Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.