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Up to Restoration

This is what Isaiah, Amoz's son, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In the days to come the mountain of the Lord's house will be the highest of the mountains. It will be lifted above the hills; peoples will stream to it. Many nations will go and say, "Come, let's go up to the Lord's mountain, to the house of Jacob's God so that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in God's paths." Instruction will come from Zion; the Lord's word from Jerusalem. God will judge between the nations, and settle disputes of mighty nations. Then they will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools. Nation will not take up sword against; they will no longer learn how to make war. Come, house of Jacob, let's walk by the Lord's light. Isaiah 2:1-5

I rejoiced with those who said to me, "Let's go to the Lord's house!" Now our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem! Jerusalem is built like a city joined together in unity. That is where the tribes go up-the Lord's tribes! It is the law for Israel to give thanks there to the Lord's name, because the thrones of justice are there-the thrones of the house of David! Pray that Jerusalem has peace: "Let those who love you have rest. Let there be peace on your walls; let there be rest on your fortifications." For the sake of my family and friends, I say, "Peace be with you, Jerusalem." For the sake of the Lord our God's house I will pray for your good. Psalm 122

Have you ever lamented about the good old days? Thinking back to when you thought, boy, life was simpler, easier, better? Sometimes that's true. But the great sage Billy Joel sang in his song, Keeping the Faith, but the good old days aren't always as good as they seemed. And there's some truth to that. I've heard a lot of people over the years lament about, oh, things were so much easier when the dirts were unpaved and you could leave your house unlocked and fill in the blank of all of those things that you or others have maybe lamented about. But the truth of it is, those weren't always the best days either. Look at the medical advances that we have. Treatments for things like diabetes, cancer, improved quality of life. I suspect some of you probably grew up without air conditioning, and I think we're all glad for that now. And so the good old days, yes, there are fond memories of them, but there are things about today that are good and we'd be missing out on if we'd somehow managed to get stuck there.

For the people of Israel, hearing the words of the prophet Isaiah, they were thinking back to the good old days. The good old days of eighth century BC when the nation was independent and thriving and things were good. Well, until the Assyrians and Babylonians came along and conquered them, carted some of them off into captivity, destroyed their city. Boy, those good old days sure were a lot better than things are now. And yet it's in the midst of that that the prophet Isaiah begins to speak a message to them and begins to tell the people, in days to come. Now this is the word of the prophet concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In the days to come. Some translations of the Bible will actually say in the last days, in the end, as if it's only going to happen when there's this apocalyptic time that comes and the end of all things. But really the prophet speaking to the people saying, you know what, in days to come, it's just around the corner.

The mountain of the Lord's house shall be established at the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills. All the nations shall stream to it. This city, the City of God is going to have a place of prominence where all of the people are going to come. And he says all the people will come and say, come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of God, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. This may be a literal meaning for some of the people that heard it, but I think about this passage for us today of God in his city, on his throne, we're just God, God's self, all nations turning to him, coming to God to learn, to be taught, to walk in his paths. Because it says, for out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, that God will speak and all will hear that word of God. And what is it that God would teach? What is it that God would speak? What would God impart to the people who come to hear?

In many ways for us this season of Advent is such a time of watching, of waiting, of leaning in and listening to see what God would speak to us in this moment for this day, for this time, for this season in which we find ourselves and our world. Their world, well their world was a contradiction to the words of the prophet. What the people were experiencing was anything but what Isaiah spoke to them. This idea of people looking up and drawing near to God to listen and hear and receive what God would impart.

We desire to hear that word. We've got our own set of issues in our world. We've got our own challenges and struggles and the things that unsettle us and make us not want to turn the news on or open the newspaper. But God, God has a word to speak to us even here and now. You may have picked up on the overlap between the passage from Isaiah and the reading from Psalm 122. This Psalm comes from a collection of Psalms from Psalm 120 to 134. All of these have a superscription at the top of it. There's a title in most Bibles for it but then it will say under that, a song of a sense. This collection of Psalms would have been Psalms that people recited and sang and prayed as they went on pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a city on a hill and so ascending or going up was how you got there. This Psalm that we heard this morning says, "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'" Jerusalem built on that city, to its tribes go up, the tribes of Israel. This idea of going up is something that we think about when we think of God.

Elsewhere in the Psalms, "I turn my eyes to the hill, from where does my help come from?" My help is in the name of the Lord, creator of heaven and earth. We look up to God, we pray up to God, we reach up to God, we call to God. So why wouldn't we go up as we draw near to God? Isaiah offered that invitation. Isaiah spoke those words and said, "Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord. Let us go up and draw near to God." I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord. Drawing near to God, drawing near and into God's presence, much like we do when we gather on a Sunday morning. I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord to pray, to worship, to sing, to see our brothers and sisters in Christ.

To share a cup of coffee, to talk about the week, to shake hands, to get a hug, to be a community together. I was glad when they said to me, let us go to that place. But what then? What happens when we gather? Is that the only reason for all of those things and more? Do we come to satisfy something within us? Do we come in to have God pat us on the back and say, there, there, everything will be okay? That does happen, I know. That's an important part of this life that we share together. But it doesn't end there. There's more to it. This ascending, this going up to God, this restoration that's unfolding and taking place when we enter into God's presence, when we draw near, when we listen and learn and walk in his ways, is that process of transformation, of God shaping and changing our lives to be God's people, to learn and to listen. Isaiah continued with this image of what he saw unfolding, of this world that wasn't yet, this world that he saw coming that was a contradiction to what was going on in that moment.

He said, "Come, let us go, that he may teach us his ways, that we may walk in his light. For out of Zion will go forth that instruction in the Word of the Lord. He shall judge between the nations and shall be the arbiter for many people." God will do this, speaking his truth, his message, his love into this world. God spoke it into this world through his Son. God continues to speak it through His Holy Spirit. And if we listen, we can hear and learn from that message, from God the arbiter, God the righteous judge. And he continues with that passage of this hope-filled future. "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up nation anymore. Neither shall they learn of war anymore." Did you catch that? Isaiah was talking about what God would be doing, about what God would be doing as arbiter and judge, and yet there's some burden and responsibility on the people.

If they have drawn near, if they have listened, if they have learned, if they have made the choice to walk in God's ways, they will beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks. The nations shall not lift up sword anymore. Neither shall they learn war. God isn't going to snap God's fingers and suddenly make all those swords turn into plowshares. The people, the people who heard his word and learned his lessons and made the decision to walk in his ways, they will be the ones that beat their swords into plowshares and their pruning hooks, their spears into pruning hooks. They will no longer learn war anymore. That responsibility is on the people. That responsibility is on us.

I didn't see any of you hanging your spears up with your coats in the coat room or leaning a sword in the corner anywhere, but yet we recognize that we live in a world that is fraught with its own perils and problems and conflicts. And so as a people who have been glad to go up and come to the house of the Lord and to see the smiling faces around us and to have those conversations and to lift our prayers and to sing, it's also important for us to learn, to learn God's ways and to go forth from here willing to beat some swords into plowshares, willing to turn some spears into pruning hooks, and to no longer learn of those things that separate and divide and wound other people. I don't know what exactly that might look like in your life, but I guess that maybe God has begun whispering that to you, speaking into your ear of touching your heart in some way to say, well, maybe there are some things that I could do. Because this redemption and reconciliation and transformation that God is doing isn't just God's work, it's our work. And it's not just work that puts the violence and those other things behind us, but it's also one that's transformative and brings blessing to others.

Isaiah didn't say that they're going to gather up all of their swords and spears and melt them down into a big lump of iron, but rather even those weapons and implements of war are going to be redeemed into weapons of agriculture, tools for providing for the needs and sustenance of others. Transformation, transformation of swords into tools. Transformation of people into doers of God's will. Friends, as we are called, as the prophet says, "O house of Jacob, O house of Aldersgate, O house of all who follow Jesus Christ, come, let us walk in the light of God." Walking in the light of God is something that can only be done when we make the choice to draw near to God, to turn our eyes to him, to make the choices and decisions that will move us closer to God. For the closer to God we are, the easier it will be to walk in his light. So to borrow another cliché, God is calling us onward and upward to walk in his light, and not just walk in his light, but to be a part of taking that light to this world. Advent isn't just about us sitting back and waiting. It's about us seeking God and walking with him. Amen.

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