1st Sunday in Advent – A LSB #357
Text – Isaiah 2:3
“…and 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 the Torah, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
TEACHING US HIS WAYS
There is a path in the affairs of men, a hard road, well-worn, beaten firm & heavily trodden by the millions of souls who have walked upon it. Its signposts are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and despair.
It is a one-way road that goes nowhere for it begins in hell, traverses the wilderness of sin, passes through the valley of death and returns from whence it began. You and I have each journeyed upon that path for different times and for various distances.
There is also a path in the affairs of our Creator that leads from every corner of the world to Mt. Zion and to the city of God. It is a less traveled road for there’s much opposition to it. It is a road that leads to the cross. It is a two-way road by which the Holy Spirit goes out through the Word of God and then draws people to return to the heavenly Father.
The sermon text is a conversation going on between people who are on the two-way road, the one less traveled, but the one that leads to life. The OT reading ends with the words, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2:5 ESV) Which road do you plan to take as you leave the house of God this day?
Since you are in God’s house this morning I have no doubt that you fully intend to leave on the way that leads to life. Yet, this broken world has a way of consuming us with all the insatiable demands upon our time. We heard an example of that from the Gospel reading:
“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away…” (Matthew 24:38-39 ESV) The people it describes were on that one-way road going nowhere but straight to hell, and they had no clue. Their lives were busy! Most likely they thought they were doing all the right things, and they were so wrong!
Another way that people can end up on the wrong path without knowing it is through meditation. I’ve heard the conservative Lutheran warnings that emptying your mind can leave room for the devil to work. Last night I came across secular research that never makes it into print. At least, I’ve never heard it before despite the many counseling classes I’ve taken.
Two professors from Brown University interviewed 60 Western Buddhist meditation practitioners. They included both rookies and meditation teachers, many of whom had accumulated more than 10,000 hours of meditation experience in their lifetime. The research identified 59 kinds of unexpected or unwanted experiences such as:
“Feelings of anxiety and fear, involuntary twitching, insomnia, a sense of complete detachment from one’s emotions, hypersensitivity to light or sound, distortion in time and space, nausea, hallucinations, irritability, and the re-experiencing of past traumas. The associated levels of distress and impairment ranged from ‘mild and transient to severe and lasting.’”
What contemporary and ancient meditators have always known is that while the positive hype surrounding meditation may be warranted, the practice is not all peace, love and blissful glimpses of unreality. Sitting zazen, gazing at their third eye, a person can encounter extremely unpleasant emotions and physical or mental disturbances.
If you’re looking for peace and getting away from the stress of life, why not, instead, go up to the mountain of the Lord? There, He will teach you His ways that you may walk in His paths. Our saintly nature will never make a different choice – but our sinful nature will. Just looking at our own lives, it’s clear that even Christians make lots of poor choices. Isaiah was sent to call God’s people back from the way whose signposts are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and despair. Listen to the words recorded just before the OT reading:
Zion will be restored by justice; those who repent will be revived by righteousness. But rebels and sinners will be completely destroyed, and those who desert the Lord will be consumed. You will be ashamed of your idol worship in groves of sacred oaks. You will blush because you worshiped in gardens dedicated to idols. You will be like a great tree with withered leaves, like a garden without water. The strongest among you will disappear like straw; their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire. They and their evil works will burn up together, and no one will be able to put out the fire. (Isaiah 1:27-31 NLT)
Chapter 2 takes off from there, and it’s clear that for at least some of the people the saintly nature is now following the will of their Creator:
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; all the nations shall flow to it, and 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.’ (Isaiah 2:1-3a ESV)
It seems like an easy choice to make, but the struggles of our lives tell a very different story. The Son of God gave His description of it, after He’d seen it firsthand, living here on earth for 30 years, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Which road do you plan to take as you leave the house of God this day?
I actually hope that you’re finding my question annoying by now. I want that thought to get under your skin, because like Isaiah, I too am called to challenge your decisions. You also are in danger, even though that’s not always clear because your eyes have been corrupted by sin. Your sinful nature hates to follow God and it will lie to you about its plans and its desires.
It’s my calling to do whatever I can to keep you from ending up like Isaiah wrote in chapter 1: “The strongest among you will disappear like straw; their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire. They and their evil works will burn up together, and no one will be able to put out the fire.” (Isaiah 1:31 NLT) That’s the world you live in and you cannot make it through alive on your own. Our sinful nature will always choose the way that leads to hell, whether that is intentional, or whether it merely comes from ignorance. In his day, St. Paul was warning the members at the church in Rome of the dangers they faced:
“…the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (13:11-12 ESV) He’s urging the same conclusion that the travelers came to at the end of the OT reading:
“O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2:5 ESV) The season of Advent begins today and it’s about renewing our quest to learn the ways of the Lord. In the book of Isaiah, ‘The Way’ is an image that cannot be separated from the themes of God’s teaching and word. The Hebrew word Torah encompasses all of that.
Torah is the way out of the moral decay of any culture that turns away from God. It takes the height of arrogance, or of ignorance, to deny that our culture is turning away from God. Not that that is so unusual. The sinful nature of any man, woman or child is always turning away from its Creator.
The good news is that Torah is always calling us back from every corner of the world to Mt. Zion and to the city of God. The God of Jacob is constructing His city out of living stones – that is His children, you, me and others – built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.
Its citizens constitute the church of Jesus Christ, against which the gates of Hell shall not prevail. This is going on even now as the Torah goes forth in this sanctuary – as we responsively speak the Words of God to one another. As mundane, boring and mindless as the liturgy may seem, it is God at work building His kingdom. Remember, our sinful nature always chooses the one-way road that leads to destruction, but God’s Word, because it has the power to create something from nothing, encompass all areas of human life: personal, family, social, religious, even national and international politics. As Luther wrote in the meaning of the 3rd commandment:
“We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” As usual, our saintly nature loves and recognizes the power and majesty of God’s Word. Holy Scripture often uses the image of a highway, whether of the exodus from Egypt, or of return from exile in Babylon.
The way is a metaphor for spiritual change and repentance. In the season of Advent we are invited to look at God bringing to completion His reign. This text from Isaiah begins with certainty about that end, with the mountain of the house of the Lord being established as the highest of the mountains, with all nations flowing to it, the city of God.
With that vision, concerning the certainty of the end, Isaiah brings certainty to the chaos of our present. The Kingdom of God is real and it is drawing to itself people from all the nations through the still creative power of Torah. Our Savior is still teaching us His ways even when we cannot see.
So even as you leave God’s house today, His Torah goes with you, and you can still say to others: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord... that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.” Amen.
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, Who ord’rest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel! O come, Thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel! Amen. LSB 357:2, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet