“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
That he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”
For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2)
The Prophet Isaiah invites us to climb the Lord’s mountain, to enter the house of God, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths. We begin the Advent season.
When Isaiah issued that invitation in 8th century Jerusalem, Assyrian armies were rumbling into Palestine heading for Jerusalem to destroy it. People listening to Isaiah must have said “What’s he talking about? Can’t he see what’s at the door?”
But the prophet insists God will instruct us in his ways that we may walk in his paths. Yes, even now, God is instructing us. And his message is not to hide because the Assyrian armies are coming; save yourselves! Rather God says get ready for the days that are coming when “ they will beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks and there will be no wars any more.” God’s peaceable kingdom is coming.
The prophet’s outrageous promises appear in wonderful imagery throughout Advent. There will be a cloud by day and a fire by night over this holy mountain. From a place of fear the mountain becomes a place of delight. Children play around a cobra’s den, the lamb and the lion lie down together, the poor become rich, a great banquet feeds them all. The mountain makes an exodus from fear to delight.
Wonderful imagery for solid institutions today, like churches and nations, that are paralyzed today by fear and confusion. Wonderful imagery for us who, like the shepherds at Bethlehem may stand today fearful in the dark.
The Assyrians must have had the equivalent of Roman centurions as the backbone of their armies. Military analysts said of them “If you got to them, you got the army.” Powerful men, loyal soldiers, but they could tell their troops “Lay down your swords and spears,” and they would do it.
The Roman centurion in today’s gospel represent those powerful forces. He comes humbly before Jesus: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but say the word and my servant will be healed.” He comes with a faith not found in Israel.
The Messiah touches the proud and the strong, our gospel reminds us. No one. even a centurion, is beyond the reach of his mercy.
Advent is a time of hope, a daring hope that’s not just about surviving. It’s about much more. Jesus Christ instructs us in this time and shows us the path to take. He’s knocking at the door, an Advent prayer reminds us. He invites us to work for the coming of God’s kingdom. He has come to lead us there.