A Homily for the first Wednesday of Advent
Grace and to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the coming King. Amen.
Tonight, in the early days of Advent, we also find ourselves in the early chapters of Isaiah. And like this season of anticipation, the prophet begins not in the past or the present but at some blessed time in the future: “In days to come…”
What follows is a vision of coming tranquility when the Lord shall reign from on high. As we’ll see in coming weeks, though, not every verse in Isaiah is quite so optimistic.
Too often, we read such prophetic predictions of coming peace with either a cheerful naïveté – as though we ourselves can fully bring about such a vision – or a dismissive cynicism – as though the world is so corrupt as to make such a vision impossible, so why even bother? – and in both interpretive modes, we miss the point.
Isaiah is not blind to the violent reality around him. Tonight’s reading does not exist in a vacuum but is situated in the midst of an empire’s brutal conquest and rise to power – at the expense of the descendants of Israel. Isaiah is painfully aware that things may very likely get worse before they get better.
Starting his ministry in the end of the eighth century before Christ, Isaiah stood on the cusp of a major cataclysm. The short-lived united kingdom of Israel had split some 200 years earlier. A decade or so after Isaiah’s call, the northern kingdom would be destroyed, the people either sent to far-flung provinces of the conquering Assyrian Empire or forced to flee south into Judah as refugees. But the southern kingdom could not provide absolute safety either, and the Assyrians would eventually be besieged. The future was far from certain as the Assyrians rampaged across the Fertile Crescent. They weren’t exactly the “swords into plowshares” crowd. When the did eventually fall about a century later, Judah’s luck didn’t change much: the Babylonian Empire rose up in Assyria’s place, eventually destroying Jerusalem and the Temple itself, part of a long cycle of rising and falling empires competing for regional dominance and trade routes – with Israel and Judah caught in the middle.
Even as the world around him was shaped by bloodshed, Isaiah prophesied of a coming time when the hills of Jerusalem shall be raised above every mountain, and the Temple of the Lord would tower over all as nations flock to worship the one true God, receiving the Holy Law. Rather than human rulers waging war against each other, the Lord God will reign. Instead of spilling blood on fields of battle, the nations will forge their weapons of destruction into instruments of creation.
Indeed, a time is coming and is close a hand when the deathly ways of this world will pass away and be replaced with the glory of God’s peaceful reign.
To hope is not to deny the chaos of this fallen and sinful age – be it the ancient imperial violence of the 700s BC or the seemingly endless parade of catastrophes that have marked so much of 2020. Were this world not fallen into sin, there would be no need to hope. Instead, to hope is to put our faith in God despite this fallen, sinful world – to stare down the forces of violence and death and declare, “Your days are numbered. You will pass away, and the Kingdom of God will rise.”
As we sit in these ever-darkening days, waiting for the time when green life and bright skies will come again, we yearn for the coming of Christ our King in final glory to usher us in to a new life that will never pass away.