Advent Candle Lighting Readings 2019: First Sunday of Advent December 1, 2019
Let us pray: O Most Holy, as we prepare for your coming, illumine these scriptures for us that we may learn the will of your heart. Guide us and teach us the way of everlasting, and keep us in the palm of your hand. Amen.
Isaiah chapter two verse one says, “The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” This is an unusual word painting for us to hear. In a highly verbal modern age, words meant everything; words in print, words from so many sources of type, text and language. Meaning springs forth from the written word and serves to inform us of culture, society, and all that many of us have come to equate with normalcy.
But what if I told you some contemporary thinkers are considering the possibility that the post-modern age is no longer word-centric? Leonard Sweet made a hypothesis in a podcast titled “Bring Back the Table” shortly before release of his 2015 book Tablet to Table that for Millennials and younger, culture has moved beyond the written word. He wonders if this also means they have moved beyond “the Word” as in, Jesus, because he is referred to as “The Word.” He wonders if this is why younger generations have had a harder time going to church and staying engaged; because the church continually speaks of this Word of God with a term that no longer has relevancy post-modern sensibilities. Sweet proposes that primarily, post-moderns connect with the world through image, music, and narrative. Which led me to wonder, what would it look like if the church did the same?
In today’s Hebrew scripture Isaiah tells of the “word he saw”…to my mind, that evokes image more than print. Was there a time, I wonder, if words were not primarily associated with print? What if they primarily evoked images and action, pictures and deeds? Perhaps this ancient prophet of the Hebrew people has something to say to us in this post modern, visual age.
Commentator Noel Erskine writes,
Quite often in the Old Testament we are told that God’s word is enacted. God’s word does not return empty but accomplishes its intent. God’s word happens as the word becomes deed. The word, as promise, is always looking toward fulfillment. …
The genius of Isaiah is that he also paints a vivid picture of God’s corrective message to the people and the new reality it will create. Along with his contemporary, Micah, he enjoins Judah that God requires justice, mercy, and even more, to walk with God. It is in this context that he articulates a theology of “the last days.” The word of God provides the basis of a new future in which the temple of God becomes the focal point of the world. There is a break, a discontinuity, with the way things were. The good news is that tomorrow will be different from yesterday, because the future is based on the promises of God, which are always new.
Were Isaiah to address us today, what would his prophesy tell us? What changes would need to be made to reflect our contemporary reality? Isaiah paints a picture with his words that sounds almost too good to be true. Here,
Jews and Gentiles alike stream toward God’s holy mountain. Why? What compels them? One insight that emerges here is that, at our core, human beings need instruction from [God]. “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; that [God] may teach us [God’s] ways and that we may walk in [God’s] paths’” (v. 3). The people are in need of instruction and direction at crucial junctures of life, but they are tired of false instruction and faulty directions from their culture’s gods. So they set their gaze on the temple of [the LORD] atop the highest mountain, and together they become the pilgrim people of God.
There in the mountain … they will encounter and meet God, who speaks not only in words but in acts. They will hear not only with their ears but with their hearts—and this God, whose actions they see and whose will they hear in their hearts, will be an all-welcoming God. The prophet offers a clue that the instruction of God revealed and hidden in the Torah is not only for Israel, but for all the nations. God’s word, indeed God’s law, is not the exclusive right of any particular people, but is “spoken” for all who stream toward the mountain of [the LORD].
Now, what about bringing this vision into our post-modern reality? The vision is beautiful, but how does it translate for us?
Yes, our culture is celebrating a giddy over-hyped pseudo-Christmas while we are attempting the more serious task of observing a holy Advent, but the reason the cultural messages are so powerful is that our human yearning is so real, and so profound.
An all-welcoming God. That is the One! That is who I long for to come and make wrongs right, to establish a heavenly reign in this earthly place. An all-welcoming Emmanuel, God-with-us! Could we but wrap up all our hunger, all our yearning, all our seeking for justice and belonging – even wrap up our very own selves and lay all before Emmanuel; would we be received in joy? Would our longing be filled? Emmanuel, God-with-us; even the name tells us unequivocally, yes! Can you envision what Isaiah saw? Here is what I envision in my attempt to understand: God’s fingers carefully unwrapping each fragile gift of ourselves. Each one of us lifted out like prized crystal statuettes bubble-wrapped to prevent breakage. But such care in transporting through life’s journey isn’t enough because life has knocks and bumps, peaks and valleys, even crashing low points. We are all too often broken, instead. Yet the miracle of Emmanuel God-with-us is this, laying our broken selves before our Maker, presenting our very lives even as they are, it is enough. God’s healing fingers lift each broken piece out and as our broken edges meet, we are healed, whole once more. But God isn’t done yet. God breathes on us, crystal statues that we are, and no longer are we frozen pieces or figurines. No longer are we lifeless crystal statues. God breathes life into us, even as God did in the very beginning using ha– adamah, the earth, as the first human molding clay. Even as Aslan in Narnia breathed upon the creatures that had been turned to stone in anger, and they returned to animated life.
That is how I begin to see it. “Isaiah holds up a vision that is true,” says Commentator Stacey Simpson Duke. Yet a vision needs flesh on it, even as God needed to put on skin and bones and become one of us to truly bring us back into full communion with our Creator. Eboo Patel, in the Forward of A Spectrum of Faith echoes the same sentiment, and gives us a step toward practical implementation; “I am more confident than I ever was … that we make [this nation] holy by who we welcome and how we relate to each other.”
Who we welcome and how we relate to each other. This Advent season, as we are preparing to welcome Christ, let us also find means to welcome others in the life of our congregation, welcoming others who also bear God’s image; and serving others outside these walls, for all people bear God’s image. We are “the hands and feet of Christ now.”
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Reflection
What does it mean to “get your house in order” for the coming of the Lord? Can we ever be perfectly ready for Christ’s return? Why is the coming of the Lord compared to a thief in the night? Is there grace in God’s surprising advent, God’s unexpected arrival?
Household Prayer: Morning
Lord God, you have woken me from sleep; the night is gone, the day is here. Enable me to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and help me to live honorably this day, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
God, my Savior, you are even nearer now than when I first learned to trust in you. Help me to lay aside the burdens of the day and rest in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, my strength and my salvation. Amen.
 AGS Info, Bring Back the Table – Leonard Sweet (Tabor e-Lab #6), accessed April 25, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=389RR-DjB4g&feature=youtu.be.
 Noel Leo Erskine, “Theological Perspective, Isaiah 2:1-5” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Stacy Simpson Duke, “Pastoral Perspective, Isaiah 2:1-5” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York: Collier Publishing, 1970)
 Timothy Knepper, A Spectrum of Faith; Religious of the World in America’s Heartland (Des Moines, Iowa: Drake Community Press, 2017).
 Attributed to St. Theresa of Avila, “Lessons from St. Teresa: How to Be the Eyes, Hands, and Feet of Christ,” Busted Halo, May 23, 2018, accessed December 1, 2019, https://bustedhalo.com/ministry-resources/lessons-from-st-teresa-how-to-be-the-eyes-hands-and-feet-of-christ.