Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent 1A

“Freedom” is a program I recently installed on my computer. It helps me get more work done and to better focus. In fact I used Freedom to get the first draft of this sermon written.

Freedom has one simple task: to disable my web browser for as long as I want or need it to. In other words, if I set Freedom’s clock for 60 minutes, I can’t access the internet for one whole hour. No email. No Facebook. No Twitter. No message alerts No downloading sermons to listen to. No internet radio. Not even my beloved blog. Just cyber-silence. (do people still use the word ‘cyber’?) If I want to access the internet, I have to go through the hassle of re-booting my computer. So, for that one hour, I have “Freedom.”

It’s beautifully ironic that the program is called “Freedom.” After all, the internet was supposed to free us. Now we have to be freed from it. The internet was supposed to make us more productive, it was supposed to help us better connect with each other, it was supposed re-create our lives, giving everyone access to the world, a platform for even the weirdest and most extreme views to find an audience. The internet was supposed to be democracy in action, where everyone has a voice if they chose to speak. The laissez-faire marketplace of ideas.

And it’s true. The internet is all those things. And more. But like most tech users, I let the medium redefine my life, at least what I call “freedom” The internet re-defined “freedom” on its own terms. And not only “freedom” but also words like “friends” “connections”

We’ve also let it re-define “work” and “time.” I’ll respond to email while waiting in line at the grocery store. I cruise bible commentary sites while watching football (Go Alouettes!). I’ll text in between hospital visits. I’m continuously connected, tethered to technology, always available.

It’s no wonder that I need “freedom.”

The people of Judah had the same problem. They needed freedom.

They were in the middle of a war. The northern kingdom of Israel and the Aramean kingdom of Damascus demanded an alliance with them in opposition to the Assyrian Empire. Judah was backed into a corner when Jerusalem was attacked. Not knowing what to do, King Ahaz sent for the prophet Isaiah1. And I wonder if Ahaz wasn’t more troubled than comforted by what he heard the prophet say.

On the face of it, Isaiah sounds hopeful; “In the days to come,” Isaiah says, “the mountains of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 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.”

“In the days to come...” What days? When? Soon? How will we know when it’s about to happen? I’m sure Ahaz had questions. After all, his wasn’t a spiritual concern. His was a flesh and bone, blood and death emergency. His enemies were destroying the holy city. He was being forced into an arranged marriage with the Arameans. Everything he and his people had worked to achieve was being taken away from them by no fault of their own. They could no longer control their national destiny. They were the victims of other peoples’ ambitions.

They longed for freedom. But they didn’t know how to get it. Ahaz just wanted to know what to expect. And what God was going to do about the enemies at his gate.

And Isaiah brought Ahaz some good news. But he didn’t provide specifics. Isaiah just said, “In the days to come...”

But “in those days...” it wouldn’t be Ahaz who has the victory. It would be God. In those days all nations and people shall stream to the holy mountain. All people will come to the house of God to learn the ways of the Lord. ALL people. No exceptions.

And Isaiah doesn’t stop there. He says how this will happen:

“For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate between many peoples. 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 any more.”

It’s a lofty vision. Some of you might even smirk at its naivete. But it’s God’s vision. And it’s God’s promise.

It is the word spoken by God that will make these promises come true. “For out of the holy mountain shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

We Christians say this word is Jesus. The instruction from the holy mountain and the Word of the Lord is the one for whom we wait. This word of the Lord is the one who will defeat the final enemy, the power of sin and death, and will rule over the whole of creation with justice and mercy.

“O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord...!”

Ahaz may have learned the hard way that God’s promises don’t always match our immediate needs. We may find ourselves trapped in a life we can’t control. We may feel stalled by circumstance. Caught in a quagmire of consumerism.

It’s often this time of year when pain and sorrow show themselves most fiercely. There’s something about the Advent to Christmas month that turns up the volume on peoples’ grief.

Suicide rates are highest this time of year. Family squabbled become full blown wars. Loneliness deepens.

It could be the increasing darkness wreaking havoc on our brain chemistry. Or the longer nights and shorter days simply bring out what is already there, and now we don’t know what to do with it.

And so we wait for the saviour to do what we can’t do ourselves: to free us from what keeps us trapped, to bring peace to our troubled lives and the conflict stained world, to bring newness when we are tired and discouraged.

We wait for the “...days to come [when] the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.”

We wait for the day when we are pulled out of the darkness we are drowning in, liberated from the traps the world lays for us, when peace will rule over our lives and our world. We wait for the day when all God’s dreams will come true.

We wait for the day when God will have the final victory. Indeed, God already has. The Word has gone forth from the holy mountain and become flesh in Jesus. In Jesus we are taught God’s ways and walk in God’s paths. In Christ, we are tomorrow’s children, claiming God’s resurrection promises today.

This Advent, I encourage you to ask God to give you eyes to see what God is doing because we don’t always recognize divine promises being fulfilled. It’s because we’re in this in-between time where God’s future touches us, yet is not fully blossoming around us. God’s future is here. But we’re still waiting for it. That’s the mystery of Advent.

And until that day comes when all people worship at the mountain of the Lord, the day when all people are freed from the power of sin and death, the day when God’s promised future arrives in all its fulness, we wait.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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