1st Sunday of Advent
To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins with His own blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father, to Him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen. In the name of Jesus, who once came to redeem us and will come again to take us home forever, dear friends in Christ, “But you promised!” How often haven’t you heard those words before? If you have children or grandchildren, it’s quite likely that you’ve heard those words a lot. Perhaps you promised to take your child to the park or out sledding or to a store after they cleaned their room, but then something came up that you couldn’t avoid and you had to go back on your words. And, especially children, have a way of remembering exactly what you promised, “But you promised!” Generally, we like promises. They give us something to look forward to. But the problem is, we aren’t in control and even if we might make a promise, we can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to fulfill that promise. Well, God makes promises too. But unlike us God is able to keep ALL of His promises and it’s God’s promises that keep us going.
In our text for this morning through the prophet Isaiah God made a promise. He first made this promise to the people living in the land of Judah in the 700s BC. What was life like back then? Well, after a brief time of prosperity in Judah under kings Uzziah and Jotham, things seemed to be good outwardly- worship continued, the economy was growing, worship services were well attended- but for many it was just hypocrisy. People’s hearts weren’t really devoted to God, they were sucked into treasuring earthly prosperity. Then Ahaz took over as king and things really slipped. He made images to the false god Baal and promoted open idolatry in Jerusalem. And so, God allowed the King of Israel to attack, and Syria, and the Philistines, and the Edomites. Then God graciously allowed Ahaz to ask for help from Him, and what did Ahaz do? He rejected God’s help and sought the help of the King of Assyria- the growing world power. Assyria took care of Judah’s enemies but then forced them to pay tribute. And yet, in spite of all this, Ahaz continued to get worse. He put an altar of a false god into the temple of the Lord and sacrificed his sons to false gods. And, as usually happens, as the leaders, so the people. So, in chapter 1, God said, “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children give to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord…turned their backs on him.”
And then right after chapter 1 comes chapter 2. (Go figure). But instead of lambasting the people for their rebellion, there comes this wonderful promise: “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.” Here God is using picture language. The Lord’s temple was built on a mountain in the city of Jerusalem, it was mount Moriah, the same place where Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac. And the purpose of the temple in Jerusalem was to symbolize God living among His people. And so, the temple, the mountain, the place, also sometimes referred to as Mount Zion, became a picture of the Lord Himself and His people, the Church. In other words, Isaiah is saying, the pinnacle, the highest point of all history will be when the Lord fulfills the purpose of the temple and fulfills His promise to come to this earth and live here Himself and establish His Kingdom.
And since God kept that promise “all nations stream to it.” Whenever people hear the gospel, the record of how God fulfilled His promises, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens people bringing them into God’s Kingdom no matter what race, nation, or background they are. And the people who are streaming into God’s Kingdom are saying, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” When people hear the gospel and are brought to faith it excites them to share it with others. And when people hear the message of the gospel, hear what God has done for them, hear how God has rescued and saved them, it also excites them to hear and learn what God says and to do what God wants.
And so, after Jesus completed the work of salvation, the word of the gospel went out from Jerusalem and spread across the earth and across time, so that, at just the right time, it came to you and God brought you into His eternal kingdom. And the result? Peace. True peace. Conflict and discord between people and nations are almost always the result of self-glorification or selfishness. “I’m better, I’m more important, I want more for me.” But when God brings someone to faith that person realizes that he or she is completely sinful and that everything in life is corrupted with sin, so, why should I fight over it? Instead, Christ, who rules in our hearts, settles our hearts through His Word bringing peace and even more, bringing spiritual peace: peace of conscience, peace of heart, peace of mind and soul, knowing God is my Savior and not my enemy. Knowing that I have the forgiveness Christ won for me. I live at peace with others and the world around me because God has rescued me and will rescue me by taking me to heaven. That peace is what Isaiah pictures when he said, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” With Christ ruling in my heart I have no need to go to war with anyone.
So, what amazing promises are held out for God’s Old Testament people here! The Lord will come, His kingdom will be established over all the hills or kingdoms of the earth, people from all over the world will stream to worship the one true God, people from all over the world will long to learn about God and walk in His ways by doing what He commands, and there will be true peace – inward peace with God that leads to outward peace with others and with the world. Amazing! And what do God’s promises do for the people of Judah? “Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.” In other words, since you have such amazing promises, live as God wants you to, get rid of the idols, stop treasuring gold and silver, treasure the Lord instead! Don’t look for earthly glory, look forward to eternal glory! Stop being hypocrites when you worship God just going through the motions, but worship such a God from your heart!
And what does this mean for us today? God’s promise to come and the great blessings He promised with His coming were meant to move His people to live for Him. What God promised through Isaiah some 700 years before Christ was born has continually taken place even up to today. Nations and kingdoms have come and gone throughout the years, except one, God’s Kingdom, His mountain, which is raised above every other. Also, Christians from all different backgrounds are brought to faith and with a godly excitement want to hear God’s Word, want to walk in His ways, want to invite others to God’s Kingdom. Christians have experienced true peace, spiritual peace in Christ.
And yet, does this description characterize us? The mountain of the Lord’s temple is chief, raised above all others, in other words God’s Kingdom is far greater and more important than any kingdom of this earth. But are we more caught up with the kingdoms of this world, the politics, the news, does what we hear or read in the news affect our attitudes or moods, or, do we maintain a simple trust in God that His kingdom is far greater than a United States, a China, or an Iran? Are we “streaming” to God to hear His Word and receive His Supper every chance we get? Are we eager to learn from God? Eager to walk in His ways? Eager to share His gospel with others? Do we live at peace? Are we ready or will Christ’s coming catch us by surprise?
To a people terribly straying away from Him, God came with unexpected grace here. He promised the OT Israelites the coming Savior and a glorious new Kingdom. And in great grace God did come. But not just for the Israelites, He came for the Gentiles, the Germans, the Norwegians, the Americans, the Native Americans, the Chinese, He came for you and me! He came to give us the peace that really counts, the peace of Christ and His forgiveness. God kept that promise and one day He’ll keep His other promise too, His promise to return at any time and take us into His kingdom forever.
So, as we prepare for Christ’s first coming and as we live ready for Christ’s 2nd coming, let us take to heart Isaiah’s words. Let us see God’s kingdom as most important in the world. Let us be eager to hear God’s Word at every opportunity, let us be eager to learn God’s ways, Let us be eager to walk in His ways- showing His kindness and care to our own families, to our fellow Christians, and finally to any and all. Come, house of St. Mark’s, Christ is certainly coming, let us walk in the light of the Lord! Amen.