St Alban’s Episcopal Church
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
More Advent words from Isaiah
Isaiah 25:6-9Isaiah 25:6-9 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth. For the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for who we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
But there is a disconnect…We read throughout Advent passages from Isaiah and other prophets who expected either a righteous earthly king who would save Israel, or a from-heaven Messiah who would come to rescue and deliver Israel – and the whole world. And we read Jesus’ words about how the Son of Man would return, and that he would come again to complete the world’s redemption within the lifetime of his hearers. But no righteous king came to Israel in Isaiah’s day. And no Messiah who ruled the world with righteousness, either.. And Jesus didn’t return within the lifetimes of anybody to whom he spoke those words.
What do we do when prophetic expectations fail?
So what do we expect? If we are still expecting final salvation, the kingdom of God, in some indefinite future, what does that mean for our proclamation about how everything changed with the resurrection of Jesus?
Jews have often given up any hope of a literal Messiah. And they are unimpressed with our assertion that Jesus was/is the One, because, in fact, the world is not redeemed: cruelty, selfishness, suffering, starvation, sickness, and death still reign. Nothing has changed.
They may put Jesus in the same category as Isaiah the prophet of God. But no more than that.
What Christians have often done is to read these passages literally, but then to simultaneously ignore them. We have often substituted a purely “spiritual” interpretation of salvation, without any necessary earthly consequences to that gift of salvation, despite the expectations that Jews had, and that early believers had as well.
What Jews have come to do is to accept that the promises have not come true, but that the commands of God and the relationship between God and the people of God remain. For them, “mending the world” is the work of God’s people on earth.
We also pray for God’s kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven. “But that means all of us need to grapple honestly with the disconnect between what we proclaim about Jesus and what we see and hear and know in history…even in the Church’s history.
If Jesus is really the long-awaited Messiah, the only evidence we have to offer is the Church fully-engaged, doing the work it has been given to do, to love and serve the world, to relieve suffering, to make justice real. To live into our salvation, or as Paul says, to “work out,” our salvation does demand effort. Then we can say that although the kingdom of God is “near,” it is not yet fully realized. Then we can proclaim obedience to and loyalty to a kingdom that is not “of this world. “We do not await a Savior who will do what we have been commanded to do and chosen not to do, but one who is with us now, enabling us to bring his kingdom-love into reality, and who will one day complete the work of redemption.