Isaiah 2:1-5 CEB
This is what Isaiah, Amoz’s son, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In the days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
will be the highest of the mountains.
It will be lifted above the hills;
peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain,
to the house of Jacob’s God
so that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in God’s paths.”
Instruction will come from Zion;
the Lord’s word from Jerusalem.
God will judge between the nations,
and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war.
Come, house of Jacob,
let’s walk by the Lord’s light.
Over the past couple of weeks: boxes were unpacked, guest rooms were prepared, birthdays were celebrated, the out-of-town family was hosted, and Thanksgiving fare was purchased and cooked and devoured! Whew… Now, onto Advent and the countdown to the next holiday in 2022, Christmas with even more needing to happen: a Christmas Eve sermon to be written, presents to be purchased and wrapped and sent, decorations to go up, planning for a Christmas day meal, and then everything will all need to be taken down again. I’m already out of breath naming everything that has been done and will be done, and now, I am being told to go up to the house of the Lord. How can I possibly add one more thing to the list of what I already have to do? Moreover, our Advent candle lighting liturgy spoke of being glad today, but especially during this season, it can feel far too busy for gladness. Beyond that, when we look around at our nation and our world, how can I speak of or hope for much gladness or joy with so much violence happening around us?
The prophet Isaiah speaks of “swords [beat] into iron plows, and their spears [remade] into pruning tools,” but this kind of peace seems far from my life and far from our world. I don’t think I can see it. Maybe you can relate to this during our Advent season this year. While all seems without hope, our God, through the psalmist and prophet, offers us a different vision this week, one that goes beyond what our limited sight can see. God invites us to come up, to enter into the Lord’s house, to look from a place where hope and new possibilities can be seen, and walk by their light to the kind of world God has in store.
Our psalmist in Psalm 122, opens with “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” Now, how do you get to God’s house? Why, by going up of course, always up! For you see, 122 belongs to a set of psalms, collectively called the Songs of Ascent, and these were pilgrimage psalms for Jewish worshippers ascending Mount Zion to worship in the temple. The temple rests on a hill, so no matter how you approach it, you have to go up to worship God! Of course, going up takes preparation. After all, we hardly think twice about going down, whether that’s down a hill or a set of stairs, but we often stop to consider whether we can make the journey up. Indeed, that’s why we have songs of preparation, like Psalm 122, so we can psych ourselves up for the journey ahead.
Our psalmist even goes so far as to say this journey up is cause for joy! The NRSV translation says that “I was glad,” but the CEB translation makes it plain by saying, “I rejoiced,” literally feeling joy for the opportunity to prepare ourselves to go up to God’s house. To put this another way, the Psalm reminds us that we are a work in progress, working to get from where we find ourselves to where God invites us to go. Why make an effort though? What could possibly be worth all this prep and work?
I think both Psalm 122 and Isaiah give us a clue. They both agree that things are different on this hill, this Mount Zion. Something is possible there that can be found nowhere else. One of the first stories I heard when I came out here to Thermopolis was about the hot springs and Monument Hill. I heard about how folks came out to soak in the springs, to find healing in their hot mineral waters. Afterward, some felt so good, they actually climbed a hill nearby and built rock cairns to mark their journey. Those pillars of stone are still there on Monument Hill, and I have to wonder what their builders saw from the top. Did they get a different perspective of the world and their lives from that high vantage? Now, I don’t know their thoughts for sure, but I wonder if their words would be similar to those of James B. Irwin, Apollo 15 astronaut, who shared his thoughts about seeing our own planet from a different vantage point:
“‘As we got further and further away, [the Earth] diminished in size. Finally, it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.’”
“Seeing this has to change a man.” James Irwin saw something few have ever seen, let alone even comprehend. It made him rethink the blue marble we call home. Those climbers of Monument Hill saw something too that caused them to immortalize the moment with stone.
Isaiah saw something too. Right there in Isaiah 2:1, “This is what Isaiah, Amoz’s son, saw…” What did he see? He saw a vision from the “mountain of the Lord’s house,” one with swords and spears being remade into gardening tools. He sees a path to peace and a cause for hope. Isaiah sees this at a time when Jerusalem has no hope of peace within its walls, and rather than the nations coming to it to learn God’s wisdom, they have come to make war. Both the northern kingdom of Israel and Damascus have laid siege to God’s city, and this is the vision that Isaiah offers Judah. It seems an unlikely place and time to offer a vision of peace and joy! Of course, the same could be said of our own time and place. Young people murdered in Idaho. A man walks into an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, and opens fire, taking lives and altering others forever. Another decides to end the lives of his co-workers in a Walmart breakroom in Virginia. All this in just the past two weeks. Peace? Get real! How can we think about remaking swords and spears when we don’t even feel safe in our schools, stores, communities, and places of worship? It almost feels like we need more swords and spears, not less of them!
That’s the trouble, isn’t it? Our vision is limited, and for good reason, as so many things cloud what is immediately before us. We cannot see what we need to see. We can’t see God at work in our world because of these troubles, and so our limited vision leaves us befuddled and divided. We muddle through the best we know how. Outside the city of Colorado Springs lies the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and if you have ever been there, it really does sit up on a mountain, at over 6,700 feet. I have been twice and getting there is a task in itself as you weave between buildings and up narrow streets until you get to the Zoo. Looking from up there across the city, that maze of structures and byways has suddenly become rather flat. You can see farther than you ever could in the thick of things. I am sure climbing the hills around here had a similar impact, and I cannot even begin to imagine seeing all our mountains and valleys vanish altogether when seeing this planet from the vantage on the surface of the moon, our whole world so small and fragile in the enormity of the starry expanse of God’s creation.
Isaiah offers us something akin to these sights. He didn’t just hear God at work, but saw God at work, and saw things from a different perspective. He saw hope, something that’s sometimes lost in the midst of the struggles, but visible when looking from God’s holy mountain. He saw a time and a place where restoration was possible. That’s the thing, after all, those swords and spears were “beat” or reforged into the very tools that grow food and give life, rather than take them. He saw a world where nations knew justice as God settled “disputes of mighty nations.” He saw countries and people learning peace and forgetting war. He ends his vision with an invitation to all of us, “Come, house of Jacob, let’s walk by the LORD’s light.” What he is saying is that this is the joy found when we go on this journey. All of this preparation and ascending is in the light of God’s hope. It is the light we see by as we walk up and up toward something different. It is the light that allows us to see things that the world’s troubles would never allow. It allows us to dream and work toward peace, even when it seems impossible.
Looking from the mountaintop, we can see the kind of world God has in store, and it all starts with a child, called the Prince of Peace, who was born in a stable trough. There are so many evils and struggles all around us! How many of us desire peace? How many of us want life and not death? God has answered that yearning in Psalm 122 and in the words of Amoz’s son, the prophet Isaiah! God has given us the vision of where to go, and in the journey, we will be transformed and we will transform. This Advent, we are invited to be makers of peace, repairers of what is broken, and restorers of all creation. We are invited by God through Christ our Lord. Let us rejoice then, and let us go up, up in the hope of restoration, for us and this world! Amen.
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Pastor Paul Grossman