By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-5
Isaiah 2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 In days to come, 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. 3 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 forth instruction and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for 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. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
This is the Word of God (from the prophet Isaiah) for the people of God. Hear too, these verses from the gospel of Luke:
By the tender mercy of our God the dawn from on high will break upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)
These two verses from Luke’s gospel are part of the Advent story and they will guide our congregation through this Advent season. They are also words recited every day during Morning Prayer at monasteries and religious communities all around the world. They are beautiful, hopeful words; aren’t they? By the tender mercy of our God the dawn from on high will break upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
As human persons, we yearn for mercy and light and peace. When the angels appeared to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth, they proclaimed “peace on earth; good will toward all.”
But I imagine many of us don’t feel especially peaceful this Advent season. Once, COVID statistics were something we saw on television or websites. But now, if you are anything like me, they are phone calls and texts and social media posts from friends and colleagues and family members letting us know that they have tested positive, that they are sick or hospitalized, or even to notify us that someone has passed. Our divisive election season drags on. It is a never-ending battle, witnessed on our screens and heard across the airwaves. And reports on job losses, businesses closing, and food lines stretching on for miles produces a kind of subtle dread that lays in our gut like a poorly digested chili dog and greasy fries.
We need some peace, don’t we? So, how do we get there… especially in this unique and difficult year? After all, there was some powerful truth to the lyrics of that classic 1950’s song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” If we want peace in the world, it will need to begin within us for what we carry within ourselves cannot help but spill over into the world around us. What we carry within emanates outward. So, we need some peace, don’t we? But, how do we get there… especially this year?
In the gospel of John, on the night before his death, Jesus told his disciples that he would give to them a peace that was nothing like what we experience in this world. It is often anxiety and fear that disrupt our sense of peace and – in that passage from John’s gospel – Jesus assures his followers that the peace he gives overcomes our anxieties and fears.
But, again – one final time – I ask you, “How do we get there; to that place of peace that, if it is to reach into the world, must begin within us?”
Well, I’d like to take you on a journey of sorts that gets us there; a trip through time and space, revealed in this morning’s scripture from the prophet Isaiah.
Over the years, I’ve watched a couple TV series that begin with a view from outer space and then they narrow in – traveling to earth, to a particular country, a particular city, a particular building, a particular person within that building. The view narrows, little by little, until we are brought into the presence of this single, primary character. That’s a bit of what we’re going to do this morning. But first, let me remind you that, in the ancient Mesopotamian world, the world of our Israelite ancestors in the faith, they had a pretty primitive sense of cosmology. God, or the gods, literally lived in the heavens and the place of their presence on earth was found inside a temple.
Here is what that looked like during the time of the prophet Isaiah. God lived, quite literally, in the heavens. But God’s presence extended down to earth. The city of Jerusalem was the place of God’s holy habitation. And within the city, specifically, God resided on Mt. Zion. Mountains were considered, in all ancient religions, to be the places closest to God since God – or the gods – lived in the heavens. The higher the mountain, the closer one was to God’s presence. And so the Temple, God’s House, was built on Mt. Zion. Now the Temple wasn’t like churches or synagogues. It was not a place ordinary people went to sing songs and pray and hear a, hopefully, inspirational message from the priest, pastor or rabbi. The Temple housed God’s presence on earth. And within the Temple, there was a special area, a sanctuary for God’s presence, called the Holy of Holies. Within the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. Housed within the Ark were the commandments God gave the Israelites, via Moses, on Mt. Sinai. On the top of the Ark were two carved cherubim, touching, and creating the sacred space called The Mercy Seat. God’s presence, God’s divine glory, lived on that mercy seat. They considered God, who was in the heavens, as kind of dangling his divine feet from the sky and that mercy seat was God’s holy footstool.
And that brings us to this morning’s prophecy from Isaiah: a prophecy of hope, not only for the Israelites, but all people, streaming into the holy city of Jerusalem and hiking up the Mountain of Zion, to the Temple to enter in to the presence of God who is right there in the Holy of Holies, his presence resting on the mercy seat atop the Ark of the Covenant containing God’s covenant word for his people. So, we have moved from a God in the heavens – watching us from a distance as the old Bette Midler song would have proposed – to a God who resides in our midst, offering the glory of his presence and his word.
And, in the word God gives to the prophet Isaiah, he assures him that, as this voluminous number of people enter God’s presence and hear God’s Word, all war and strife will cease and the instruments of war will be transformed into instruments of peace and community-building.
So how do we get to a place of peace in us and around us? By entering God’s presence and hearing God’s Word. Let me say that again: we can get to a place of peace within us and even around us by entering God’s presence and hearing God’s Word.
You know, in ancient Hebrew, there were no vowels. So it is fascinating that the Hebrew word for the mercy seat and the Hebrew word for “word” come from the same root word… revealing to us that God’s presence and God’s Word always go together, hand in hand. To enter in to God’s presence is to hear God’s voice; it is to have God speak peace over us as Jesus did to his disciples on the night before his death so long ago.
That is the good news of this season; a promise to give us hope that, according to the gospel of John, Jesus is both God’s Word and God’s presence who has come to dwell among us. So what else could the angels possibly herald on the night of his birth except the proclamation that peace has come to earth? God’s teaching, God’s instruction, God’s Word are always manifest to us when we enter God’s presence and, thanks to Jesus and the gift of his Spirit, we don’t have to climb Mt. Zion and enter a physical structure to get there. In Jesus, and through the gift of his Spirit who abides within us, God’s Word and God’s presence are always available to us, 24/7 wherever we are.
Peace can and does begin with us, but only when we live our lives centered in God. God is not out there somewhere. In Jesus, in the Christ Child, the prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. In John’s gospel, Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple because HE is now the Temple; he is the place where earth and heaven meet and, through the gift of his Spirit, God’s presence dwells within us.
But it is not magic or a good luck charm we wear around our necks. It is a way we choose to live; walking in the light of the Lord on a daily basis. “Come:” that is the invitation that Isaiah issues us. “Come:” that is the invitation that Jesus gives us. “Come let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
Friends: if you are struggling to find peace, then I invite you to take the time to enter into God’s presence this Advent season and to hear God’s Word; to spend time in silence, listening for God’s voice; to take time to read Scripture to hear God guide and instruct you. And there are many ways to do that. Just this morning, Trinity posted and emailed an Advent devotional. You may want to use the scripture in those devotionals or in the weekly sermon; perhaps selecting one passage to read each day.
If you are seeking peace, simply make time to hear God’s Word and to bask in God’s presence. Peace is not beyond our grasp, regardless of what is happening around us, for peace can reside within us through God’s presence, the Christ Child.
If you would like to engage in this practice of abiding in God’s presence and God’s Word, I would invite you to go to my blog site. It’s very simple: https://traceyleslie.com/
On my blog site, beginning Sunday afternoon, I will have a link to the church’s weekly devotion, a list of scriptures for this week, this process I just outlined, and other resources to help you deepen your experience of abiding in God’s presence and listening for God’s Word.
Friends: peace is God’s gift to us and a fulfillment of the promise that “By the tender mercy of our God the dawn from on high will break upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
 Luke 2:14
 John 14:25-27.
 John 2:13-22
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