Advent thought 1: Isa 2:1-5

OK - confession: I am a whimpy Charismatic who is somewhat fed up with the superficiality of much that goes under the banner of Charismatic spirituality. We don't do 'Advent' in our kind of Charismatic tradition but my wife and I thought we'd give it a go in our own devotional time. Prepare for us making a pigs ear of it all - please be patient with us.

So we started off today with Isaiah 2:1-5
"The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 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; and all the nations shall flow to it, 3 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, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and 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. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD."

Here is what struck me about the text, when read from a NT perspective:

Advent is a time of waiting in expectation, leaning forward towards the future. The Church recalls (imaginatively re-living) the first coming of Messiah and anticipates his Second Coming. But these two advents are not unrelated, distinct events. They are two phases of a single event: the coming of the kingdom of God.

This Isaianic vision is one in which the nations of the world are finally at peace. And they all come to Jerusalem to acknowledge that the god of Israel is the true god, and to learn his ways from Israel.

What strikes me is that the nations come as 'the nations' and not as converts to Judaism. Their distinctive cultural and ethnic identities (note the plural) are valued and preserved in relationship to Yhwh. So this is a pluralist vision of a kind. And they relate to Yhwh on equal terms to Israel (whilst this is not so clear in this Isaiah text it is clear elsewhere in Scripture).

But, there is a clear 'priority' of sorts which Israel retains. The nations do not come on their own terms. They come to Zion. They come to the God of Israel. They seek to learn the ways of Yhwh - the God of Abraham and Moses. And - warning to Christians here - whilst the nations are not expected to convert to Judaism to share in relationship with Yhwh, neither are the Jewish people expected to become de facto Gentiles in order to be the true people of God. Israel and the nations retain their distinct identities even whilst uniting in worship of the one God.

In Christ the kingdom has come and is still to come; it is present in part but awaits its consumation. So too with this vision: The first advent of the Messiah ushered in a period in which some non-Jewish people are called out from all nations to join with a remnant of Israel - united through Christ into a single new humanity (but not in such a way as to remove the diversity and distinctions between Jew and Gentile, nor between Gentile and Gentile - diversity is a good thing. It is division which is bad). In the Church we are called, in the Spirit, to live this Isaianic vision in an anticipatory way.

That's a challenging call (see v. 5). Stanley Hauerwas writes,

"all too often it appears that we who have been called to be the foretaste of the peaceable kingdom fail to maintain unity among ourselves. As a result we abandon the world to its own devices. The divisions I speak of in the church are not only those based on doctrine, history, or practices, important though they are. The deepest and most painful divisions afflicting the church in America are those based on class, race, and nationality that we have sinfully accepted as written into the nature of things." ("The Servant Community")

Yet any degree of the peaceable kingdom we experience now is only a foretaste of the age to come. When our Messiah returns then 'all Israel will be saved' and all the nations will come on pilgrimage to Zion, to worship the god of Israel.

For that future we still wait in eager expectation!


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