For many churches, the annual Christmas pageant or nativity is an important tradition. But did you know that the first Christmas pageant was not performed until the 1200’s? It was St. Francis of Assisi who had the idea. Francis loved theater and drama, and thought that acting out the story of Christmas would be a great way for both adults and children to understand it, and to know that they were an important part of the story as well. Advent, the four weeks of anticipation leading up to Christmas, is also an invitation to put ourselves in the Grand Story of what God is doing. Not yet as Wise Men, Shepherds, or even the animals, but as the people of God who long for deliverance. We can try to put ourselves in the shoes of Jewish people living 2000 years ago. We invite you to this imagination each week of Advent. Jews in Jesus’ day lived under the rule of the Roman Empire. Various other nations had ruled over them, from the Babylonians, to the Assyrians, to the Greeks, for 500 years. Each of these nations had one thing in common: they worshiped other gods besides Yahweh. For Jews, there could be no greater disgrace. But throughout these hundreds of years, the prophet Isaiah was their Bible. It was read and used probably more than any other book of the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah is a book of hope and comfort for people who have suffered, even when their suffering is self-inflicted.
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
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 ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
Our reading today spells out what real hope looks like: God’s reign and rule over all the nations, not just Israel or any other single nation. God’s just ways, one day, will be how things are done. But God’s ways, the text says, need to be learned. We have to go to the house of the God of Jacob to learn to beat weapons of violence into farm tools. We have to be re-trained, to unlearn the ways of war. Our sin must be unlearned. For Christians, though, our instruction has already begun. We have already begun to sit at the feet of our true pastor, Jesus, as our Sermon on the Mount series reminded us. In community with the church, we have already gathered at the house of the God of Jacob. We can begin to live out the future reality even now. The first Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of Hope. It reminds us that our hope is concrete. It reminds us that our hope is both a future AND a present reality. We hope for Jesus, the true King, to come quickly, to judge the nations and put all to rights.
God of the Nations,
We know our hope is found in you and through your son Jesus. This Advent, help us to learn how to hope for the things you promise. Help us to wait with expectation for your deliverance. Help us to live the hope we profess.