Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent - Season of the Promise

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. 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. 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.

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Isaiah 2: 2-5

Reflection – I wanted to start the Advent blog calendar with Scripture, and particularly prophecy, because Advent is above all and through all of its movements and phases a season of the Word. It is the time of promises, of God giving His word to us that He is going to bring all creation to fulfillment, that He is not going to leave the world in the state it is now in, a state of conflict, disorder, tension, beauty intermingled with ugliness, joy and hope lying side by side with sorrow and despair, love and kindness continually confronted by hatred, indifference and cruelty.

God has promised us that, while this is how it is now, it is not how it will be forever, and that promise is in His Word. So Advent is the season of the word, the season of the promises of God. It is good, if you are looking for a way of Advent practice, to read the prophets, Isaiah especially, but all of them.

I remember a season in my life when, to be honest, I wasn’t doing so well spiritually. I was contending mightily with my own interior darkness and battles. Prayer was difficult, and life was (to be honest) just a long hard slog for quite a long time. I found the only thing that brought me consolation was, oddly, reading the prophets, and especially reading all the tough prophetic passages, the many and long prophecies of doom and destruction and carnage.

I realized one day that these passages were consoling to me because, simply, they were telling me that evil has an end. Evil comes to an end, it has a shelf life, it doesn’t just go on and on and on. Goodness and love go on and on and on; evil eventually is destroyed. That was a matter of great consolation to me, as I was mired in my own darkness and bleak war-torn interior landscape.

And so it is in this reading, which is the first reading for Mass today. It is worth noting the historical situation of Isaiah here. The Assyrian empire is rampaging around the Fertile Crescent, a fierce warlike people. They have already destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, and now they are coming for Judah.

Judah is a tiny little remnant of the chosen people, no more able to defeat Assyria in battle than you or I could. They are faced with imminent total destruction. Now go back and read the prophecy. The true miracle is that Isaiah was not dismissed as a raving lunatic, but that instead his words were recorded and preserved.

And yet, within a century Assyria would be spent, forgotten, a relic of history. And 2500 years later, instruction has gone forth from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, and the nations have streamed to the mountain of the Lord, and many people have learned the path of peace and love from the Word of God.

So here’s you and I and whatever our situation is. Maybe you’re doing OK in your life right now, maybe not. Maybe the ‘Assyrians’ are camping out on your doorstep; maybe they’re still in the next street over. Whatever. But the world itself still lives in a state of siege, to some extent. There is much goodness and love and joy in the world; and there is much, much violence and hatred and war and tragedy.

Advent bids us to make a deep act of faith in the power of God to prevail in all this, in the faithfulness of God to see us through personally in our lives, and in the love of God to conquer, in the fullness of time, all that is dark and diseased, all that is twisted and torn, all that is hateful and hurting, to bring His kingdom and His peace, to finally—finally!—beat all swords into plowshares, and to shed the light of the Lord to the ends of the earth.

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