The First Sunday in Advent, 27 November 2022
A Sermon on Isaiah 2:1-5 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
Isaiah 2:1-5 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
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, 3and 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.
HOLY COMMUNION: HOLY PEACE
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I had been a pastor for three years, the fear of nuclear war was a key issue in the coming 1984 presidential election. Twenty years earlier, TV adds against then Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater featured a little girl holding a flower just before a nuclear explosion occurred. That was one year since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and just before the war in Vietnam expanded. Ironically, President Lyndon Johnson, who would send hundreds of thousands of soldiers to Vietnam, was elected as the safer, more peaceful choice.
So, at the 1984 convention of the Texas-Louisiana Synod of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) held on the campus of Texas Lutheran College, the key topic under discussion was a social statement on nuclear weapons. Official visitors from the Japan Lutheran Church were present, who had survived the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. At the passing of the peace, I hugged an older Japanese pastor. When we separated, his eyes were filled with tears, and, then, so were mine. None of us ever wanted a nuclear war again.
As might be expected, a memorial in support of the social statement passed with ease. We could feel righteous, and I suspect most of the pastors, if not laypersons, planned to vote for Walter Mondale, who was seen as the safer, more peaceful choice. Better Fritz Mondale, many said, than to re-elect the sitting president Ronald Reagan, a tough-talking former actor known for hosting a western TV series by the name of Death Valley Days.
I remember going home to my mostly blue collar suburban parish south of Dallas and preaching against nuclear weapons. As I reached a fevered pitch of righteous indignation, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the number of parishioners who worked in military related industries and that the rest of us earned our living in support of the same. In a flash I understood that when you point a finger at someone else the rest of the fingers are pointed back at yourself. When emotion clouds thinking and groupthink overrides discernment, it’s easy to feel righteous and not to recognize you also are in bondage to sin and cannot free yourself. Passing laws or church resolutions cannot free us. Entrusting ourselves to human leaders is always foolish. Any resolve unilaterally to disarm, to beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks won’t bring the peace we yearn for. Only Christ Jesus can free us from the unholy trio of sin, death, and evil.
Zion, God’s holy mountain, was the place where the Lord God had caused His name to dwell. There in the Temple was the Holy of Holies and in it the Mercy Seat, the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, where on Yom Kippur, the high priest sprinkled the blood of a pure sacrifice in atonement for his sins and those of the people. That was the place where God met man.
In the mid-8th century BC, the prophet Isaiah was called to proclaim judgment both against the nations (the goyim, the Gentiles) and against Judah and the whole house of Israel. The more Isaiah would preach, the less they would listen. The more Isaiah called God’s people to keep the Sinai covenant which the LORD God had made by grace with those He had rescued from Egypt, the less they would return to the LORD.
Isaiah reminded his king and his hearers that the future was not uncertain nor was it in their own hands. No, the LORD God would call all the nations to His holy presence. The LORD God would speak judgment against the sins of many, and the LORD God would bring His peace (His shalom) to the earth. Everyone would learn the ways of the God of Jacob and walk in His paths. The LORD God would put an end to war, and, as per God’s original plan, humankind would devote themselves to the care of His good creation. There would be no more hunger. Shalom! The LORD God would be their light.
But because the nations would not return to the LORD, the Holy Mountain, the Presence of the LORD, had to come down to them. God in human flesh lived the life of total obedience that they and we cannot live and died the innocent death on the cross they and we cannot die. By shedding His Precious Blood for us and our salvation, the Lamb of God bore our sins, carried our sorrows, and purchased us back from our bondage to sin, death, and the devil. By water and the Word of God, we are joined to His saving death and raised to new life in Him. Baptized, we are made disciples, who learn His ways that we may walk in His paths. Full of hope only in Him and not in ourselves or others, we walk in the light of the LORD.
Taking a historical page from what Babylon did in 587 BC, the Romans destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem with it in 70AD. From the 7th and 8th centuries AD, the Temple mount has been occupied by two mosques, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa. Mount Zion came briefly under Christian control during the period of the Crusades, but since the 13th century it has been in Muslim hands. In the past 25 years, a third mosque has been added on the southeast corner. It is a foolish idea that there can ever be Middle East peace as long as the holiest place for Judaism is occupied by the third holiest place of Sunni Islam. Sinners will never bring in lasting peace.
Why are there so many shootings? It is not that there are too many guns. Why are there so many problems in this country? It is not that we are a nation founded on racism. Why are there so many deaths from fentanyl and other illegal drugs? It is not because they are illegal or hard to acquire. Why can two people look at the same events and come up with opposite conclusions? It’s not because one political ideology is right and the other wrong, or one TV network is good and the other evil. All these questions point us to the work of the unholy trio of sin, death, and evil. When we despair of our own powers and those of inept human leaders, we may finally be open, yes, our ears may finally be opened to the good news that is only found in Jesus Christ.
You are one heartbeat, one drunk driver, one aneurysm, one violent act away from death. You are one doctor’s visit or one phone call away from learning the sand has almost run through your hourglass. You are one second away from having your life irrevocably changed by a text or a conversation. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know how close the ending is. Quoting songwriter Jimmy Webb, “The endings always come at last, the endings always come too fast. They come too fast, but they pass too slow” (“All I Know”). I’ll paraphrase the rest of the chorus, “Christ loves you, and that’s all I know.” There is no other place to turn. He alone is the Resurrection and the Life. He alone can give you the peace which the world cannot give.
Today, we remember that the holy ending is coming when we least expect it. God’s Son Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. That is not a fiction, not a myth. That is the holy ending that Christ Jesus declares repeatedly. As He teaches in Matthew 25, the Lord Jesus will come to separate sheep from goats, some will be sent away and others will be His forever. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Ethnicity, biological sex, pigmentation, language or birthplace, political party, rich or poor, chosen identity and object of desire: none of these will count for anything. Who you are and who you think you are will count for nothing. In the end, there will be the baptized children of God who cling to Him and those who are not and do not.
You answered the Holy Spirit’s call today, and that is why you are here. Perhaps, you thought you were here to make someone happy or here to be with friends. Perhaps, you don’t know why you came but you were drawn by a memory, a sense of obligation, out of desperation, or yearning. Thanks be to God you came for whatever reason known or unknown. But it’s not about you or me, dear one. In this assembly, the Holy Mountain comes to you, the Holy Presence of the LORD God comes to you to speak to you, to call the unbaptized to be baptized, to call the empty, the shame-filled and guilt-ridden, yes, the miserable unto Himself. This worship is not about you or me. This is the Divine Service, where God does the work on us in Word and Sacrament to kill the old sinner in us and to raise up a new child of God in its place. He wants to be only, not first!
If you are baptized and know you are a sinner, if you want peace and know you need Jesus, then come to the Lord’s Holy Supper, where we receive the Holy Presence of the LORD God in the Host and in the Cup, the Breaking of the Bread. If you are tired of walking in darkness of any kind, then come empty-handed to Jesus, the Light of the World. And, if you are not yet baptized, then come for a blessing, crossing your arms over your chest, and hear God’s call to Baptism.
At a very low time in my life, the Spirit of the Living God gave me this prayer: “For the peace the world cannot give, for the hope that will not be disappointed, for the love that cannot be taken, and for the joy that shatters the darkness with brilliant Light: Thanks be to God!”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God. Have mercy on me, a sinner.
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Holy Communion: Holy Peace
Stir up your power, O Lord, and come; that by your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by your mighty deliverance; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 92).
Isaiah 2:2 “… the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest….”
St. Augustine [Late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “The central place they are all coming to is Christ; he is at the center, because he is equally related to all; anything placed in the center is common to all … There you will be safe, there you will be protected; Christ is your mountain of refuge” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Isaiah, 24).
Isaiah 2:3 “… that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
St. Justin Martyr [2nd century Christian apologist]: “But through the power of God they [the apostles] they witnessed to every race of humanity that they were sent out by Christ to teach the Word of God to all people. Now we who once killed one another no longer war against each other, but moreso we gladly die for the confession of Christ in order not to lie or to deceive our interrogators” (26).
Isaiah 2:4 “… nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
St. Athanasius the Great [4th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “Who is the one who has done this, or who is the one who has joined together in peace people who once hated one another, except for the beloved Son of the Father, the Savior of all, even Jesus Christ, who because of his own love suffered all things for our salvation? For of ages past the peace he would initiate is promised” (27).
Isaiah 2:4 “… nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “Governments and monarchies will be destroyed; there will be but one kingdom put together for all people, and, unlike in times past, its greater part will be at peace. For in the past, all craftsmen and men in public life were trained in warfare and took their place among the ranks. After the coming of Christ, all that was done away with, and wars were confined to widely separate areas” (27).
Isaiah 2:5 “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”
St. Jerome [Late 4th – early 5th century Translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible]: “For all who do evil hate the light and fail to come to the light lest theirs work be proven. But you, the house of Jacob, you the house of my people, come with me and let us walk in the light of the Lord. Let us accept the gospel of Christ and be illuminated by him who said, ‘I am the light of the world’” (28).
1. Do I understand that Christ Jesus comes to me in the Host and Cup to give me His peace?
THE CREED (from Luther’s Small Catechism)
As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.
The Third Article
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean?
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church he daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day, he will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship especially with you on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend how the Third Article of the Creed helps you to understand the means by which God the Holy Spirit gives you faith and sustains you.
4. Consult Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 179, for the daily lessons for the Week of Advent 1 (Year One) and read them daily before offering your prayers on behalf of your family, the world, our nation, our state, and our local communities.
5. Reflect on the Holy Spirit’s work in and through the Word and Sacraments. If I am indeed born dead in my trespasses, what part do I really play in my coming to faith in Christ Jesus?”
6. Worship every Wednesday and weekend at St. Matthew’s during this Advent season.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”