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Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Isaiah 2:1–5 The opening chapters of Isaiah address a time of crisis in Judah. The armies of Assyria posed a serious threat as its empire expanded. The northern kingdom of Israel was being threatened first. It was sent into captivity by Assyria in 722 bce. Over the next two decades, Assyria threatened Judah with the same fate. Yet another peril involved injustice within Judah. Prophets like Isaiah warned against both sets of dangers. Yet these same prophets invited hope, as Isaiah does here. The focus scripture reads almost word for word with Micah 4:1–4. Prophets often announce unexpected reversals. In verse 4, tools of death will be hammered into tools of life. Warning levied against Jerusalem (1:21) gives way to this promising word. Another surprising development has to do with the identity of the pilgrims who will stream to Mount Zion. “All nations” shall come. “Nations” translates a Hebrew word that also means “Gentiles.” The city, like its vision, is inclusive of all God’s people. God’s “holy mountain” is a key image in this passage. Jerusalem was built on a ridge. “Zion” was the name of one portion of that ridge. Zion came over time to be a synonym for the temple and Jerusalem itself. Mountains were often identified as “holy.” They were seen as places of encounter with God. In this vision, such encounter takes the form of holy instruction. Underlying this passage is a vision of God’s peace or shalom. Shalom is more than an absence of conflict. Shalom is the presence of conditions that make for life. It includes security and a state of “truce,” but goes beyond them. Shalom involves justice and sharing. Shalom assures freedom from want and an abundance of life’s gifts. A caution is in order. Prosperity and security are not always signs of God’s shalom. Plenty and comfort can create false optimism; Isaiah and other prophets confront the pride and denial that then can result. The focus scripture closes on an open-ended note. The last verse can be read as an invitation to join this journey to Mount Zion. It also can be read as a warning not to travel the paths described in the remaining verses of the chapter. Both meanings fit the prophetic call. Now is the time to follow God’s leading. Peace, goodness, and vigilance play important roles in the additional scriptures. Hope and community rely on the exercise of all three. In Psalm 122, the psalmist prays for peace and offers a benediction upon others. The psalm closes with the resolution to seek the community’s good. In Romans 13:11–14, the nearness of God’s salvation serves two roles. First, it identifies Paul’s basis for hope in God’s peace. Second, it serves as cause for our “living honourably.” That hope moves us to seek the good in our relationships with God and one another. Paul urges our wakefulness, based on knowing what time it is. On the other hand, Matthew 24:36–44 summons vigilance because we do not know the hour of God’s coming. Sunday’s lessons encourage us to join the procession that leads to God’s peace for all. Who are the prophets among us? How do their words of invitation and warning grow out of a vision of God’s peace? How might we journey through Advent as pilgrims who seek, and disciples who practice, the ways of God’s shalom?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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